U.K. deals abound as suppliers slash prices

NEW YORK -- If ever there was a time to visit Great Britain, this is it.

While the destination continues to struggle with tourism revenue losses stemming from the hoof-and-mouth outbreak -- which hit at the start of the usually lucrative mid-winter booking season -- suppliers are reducing prices on everything from rail passes to hotel rooms and tour packages.

Other destinations, primarily the Mediterranean countries, are reaping the benefits of Great Britain's losses, said operators, many of whom singled out Italy as a particularly hot spot for summer travel.

"We lost two or three months of prime booking season [for Britain], but hopefully there are still people [we can persuade] to come in our direction," said Tim Roebuck, managing director of BritRail.

Like Roebuck, other U.K. suppliers haven't given up the ship yet, and are hoping to make up lost ground with a series of incentives. Here's a roundup of some deals on high-season products in the U.K.:

Big Ben and the houses of Parliament in London.

  • The BritRail Classic Pass and Freedom of Scotland TravelPass have been reduced by 25%.
  • At Virgin Atlantic Vacations, some packages are priced at about 30% less than they were last summer. Virgin's new air and land products to London are the Summer Fling, a six-night, no-frills package priced from $799 per person, double, and the Summer Jaunt Special, three nights from $719 per person, double.
  • The Savoy Group of luxury hotels is offering a summer rate of $245 per room per night at its four five-star properties in London. Summer rack rates at the hotels normally range between $483 and $532. The Savoy Group also is hoping to entice families with a rate of $418 per night for two connecting guest rooms.
  • Vacation Britain, a hotel booking service, is offering two nights and daily breakfasts at the five-star Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel in London for about $141 per person, double. Available from July 8 to Aug. 31, the deal represents a savings of more than 50%.
  • Free-night offers, upgrades and added amenities abound in London this summer from suppliers like EuroVacations.com, Far & Wide Travel and Continental Airlines Vacations, in conjunction with Thistle Hotels.
  • Through June, DER Travel Services is offering a free economy car rental for five days when clients buy two airline tickets to England or Scotland.
  • Several escorted operators, while not discounting from their profit margins, are partnering with airlines to offer value plans. CIE Tours International is teaming with Aer Lingus to discount $150 per couple on any escorted tour to the British Isles booked by the end of June.
  • "We'll never get back what we lost ... all of three months of reservations [to Ireland as well as the U.K.], are just gone," said Brian Stack, president of CIE Tours International, who added, "We're just getting back to where we were last year with week by week bookings."

    In conjunction with British Airways, Globus and Cosmos and Brendan Tours are discounting $100 per person on all tours that start and end in London, for bookings by June 30 for travel Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.

    Meanwhile, operators to other destinations said that the strong U.S. dollar is helping to offset the nation's economic slowdown and, in some cases, leisure bookings for this summer are soaring.

    Tom Souza, president of Far & Wide's Europe division, which includes seven operators, said the firm was "having a banner year to our Mediterranean destinations, particularly Spain and Greece, where we have experienced strong gains in traffic."

    "While our business to London and the U.K. is off compared to last year, our overall business to Europe continues to perform well," said Ted Mooney, president of Delta Vacations.

    "Paris and Rome, our other big European destinations, have really picked up the slack," Mooney added.

    Trafalgar Tours' vice president of marketing Maureen Van Metter said the company's volume to Italy is up 25%, with France and Spain also showing double-digit growth.

    Phillip Gordon, managing director for Globus and Cosmos, said Spain, Italy and Greece were showing the strongest growth among European vacation programs, with a 10% to 20% increase in volume.

    Imad Khalidi, president of Auto Europe, said the only destination that was on the upswing for his company is Italy, with an 80% jump in business compared with last year.

    The company's prices on Italy products are 25% lower this year, compared with 2000, he said.

    -Dinah A. Spritzer contributed to this report.

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