Value World runs 'Fire Sale' on Danube cruises

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NEW YORK -- The headline "Fire Sale!" -- which runs across the top of Value World Tours' latest cruise flyer faxed to agents -- is appropriate, given the effect that the recent Balkan conflict has had on the firm's Danube River cruise business.

"We have seen a drop of 55% in volume," said Samo Toplak, president of Value World. "It is a lack of bookings more than cancellations. What the war did was completely stop bookings in their tracks."

Two of Value World's cruise ships that had traveled the southern Danube along Yugoslavia's borders were rerouted to avoid the area after the NATO bombing began. In Yugoslavia, the ships had called on Belgrade and Novi Sad, both in Serbia.

The 20% to 25% discount Value World is offering covers a variety of cruise products, including Russia and China. Toplak said these areas were also affected by the conflict in Yugoslavia and noted a Yangtze River cruise discount was introduced because of the "hesitancy of passengers after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade [and subsequent Chinese reaction]."

Uniworld, which canceled four southern Danube cruises and developed alternative itineraries between Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Budapest, Hungary, did not have a large number of other cancellations.

"We did experience a slowdown in new bookings, but we were already pretty full," said Serba Illich, president. Instead of offering big discounts, Illich said, "we're using the extra space for travel agents to become familiar with the product." Illich said he expects to host more than 600 agents this year on fam trips.

But discounts were not entirely ruled out. "We're going to be looking at select sailings, but there are not a large number and will not be huge discounts."

A Peter Deilmann EuropAmerica Cruises spokeswoman said that of the six ships the line has in Europe, only two were affected and that the cruises "in general are OK. [The business] was not much affected by what happened."

She also noted that no discounting was taking place on the remaining cruise departures this season. Toplak noted that the southern Danube season ends Oct. 1. "Even if we wanted to return, the Danube [in Serbia] won't be navigable by then."

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