e ran a news story recently about how the erupting Mount Etna, in Sicily, is drawing tourists.

That might surprise some people, but not me. I'd love to be one of those travelers who, upon hearing of a momentous occasion, takes off to the destination to become part of it.

In the case of Etna, the event is even more intriguing for me, since my mother's side of the family is from Sicily. They immigrated here from the Palermo area in the early years of the 20th century.

So, while I've always harbored a desire to visit Sicily, the Etna eruption makes it even more enticing. The photos of lava pouring down the side of the volcano are truly incredible. It gives us a chance to stand in awe of nature, albeit from a safe distance.

Local travel industry people who were quoted in our news report said that lots of tourists are taking nighttime excursions to the volcano. Some hotels are organizing excursions, trying to use the expression of nature to its fullest commercial advantage.

As one hotelier put it: "I am sorry for the little towns up near Etna, but to tell the truth, for us this is good business."

The Italian Government Tourist Office in New York reported that, since the eruption began, there's been a spike in requests for reservations in Sicily. Some operators who specialize in Italy and Sicily said they are altering their current itineraries to enable clients to see the volcano.

Even Mr. Italy himself, Mario Perillo, told us that his company, Perillo Tours, is considering incorporating Etna more prominently in its tours.

"If it continues until we write our 2002 brochure," he said, "we may add a new picture or two to illustrate the glory of Etna."

Scientists tell us that, indeed, the lava flow could continue for weeks or months. If it looks like it will go on for a while, I just might jump on a plane and go see it for myself -- along with a little side trip to Palermo.

Donna Tunney is executive editor of Travel Weekly, Travel Weekly Crossroads and Travel Management Daily.

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