or some agents, the phones stopped
ringing last week. At Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, N.J., owner
Lucy Hirleman said calls and bookings up to that point had been
consistent. Clients were either booking four to six weeks out or
were looking ahead to August and later.
But last week, they were not booking or looking or calling.
Hirleman called it "creepy, eerily silent."
Dale Eyerly Colson, owner of Travelstar in Westport, Conn., said
her phone has been dead for weeks because of "war, war, war and
terrorism, terrorism, terrorism."
She has sales on the books to Hawaii, Mexico and the like, but
"no one is going to Europe because Americans, with their grasp of
geography, know that if they strain their heads a bit, they can see
Baghdad from Westminster Abbey."
Clients are all at Home Depot spending vacation funds on plastic
sheeting and duct tape, she quipped.
Liz Sutton, president of Alabama World Travel in Montgomery,
said business itself is good, but lots of it is booked at the last
minute, and there is an emphasis on the Caribbean and Alaska. Those
who don't want the Caribbean, she said, are sometimes opting for
Mexico or the Baltics.
The agency has had some very busy days and some "silent days,"
but there have not been enough silent days to be worrisome, Sutton
Donna Hubbs, owner of D&D Travel, an independent contractor
business in Bloomfield, Conn., said all clients are concerned about
war -- they are "watching things" -- but her business seems to be
pretty good. "Am I bucking a trend?" she wondered.
She said the heightened terrorism alert did not produce the
angst she expected either.
Hubbs said cruise sales have picked up, but people are booking
later and later. Her cruise sales now are for March and April, she
A little antsy
Ted Lawson, owner of National Travel Service in Charleston, W.
Va., said February's bookings are down 15% to 20%. "I think leisure
travelers especially are getting a little antsy as far as booking,"
Flip Himmelreich, owner of CWT/Century Travel in Spokane, Wash.,
reported his agency is seeing more travelers avoid booking between
60 and 90 days in advance because "they don't know what's going to
happen and don't want to be locked into putting down $3,000 or
$4,000 on a cruise. People are waiting until they're in a comfort
zone," Himmelreich said.
Chris Mize McMillan, CEO of Bonner Travel Service in Jackson,
Miss., has her fingers crossed that war won't negatively affect a
profitable group venture. Her agency is planning a trip to Spain
and Portugal in September for the Mississippi Museum of Art. The
promotional flyers will be sent to museum patrons this week.
"I have made doubly sure that deposits are refundable until
June," McMillan said. "I'm worried that as soon as I get the flyers
on the street, something's going to happen. You can't stop trying,
"Business as unusual"
Tour operators and cruise lines also are reporting late
bookings, sporadic patterns, anxiety and uncertainty.
This year's wave season for cruise bookings, for example, was
far below expectations for some lines, and the late-booking
syndrome is often cited as the reason.
Larry Pimentel, chief executive of SeaDream Yacht Club, said,
"Business is very good, even though the times are very precarious
and the geopolitical climate is unfavorable."
He called it "business as unusual. Every day I come into my
office and say, 'What shoe has fallen today.'"
And some of the booking patterns "don't make sense," said a
spokeswoman for Crystal Cruises.
But she said business is good on "selected sailings," adding
that people still are responding to good offers. "If the deal is
compelling enough, there are travelers who are taking advantage of
it," she said.
On the tour side, "The primary thing is late bookings," said
Globus & Cosmos president Paolo Mantegazza. "People are not
willing to commit. It gets worse as we get closer to war. But it's
not just the war, it's the stance of our European allies. People
think they are not backing us, and it makes people unsure of what
kind of reception they will get in those countries."
Booking patterns are sporadic, unpredictable. "We'll have days
of amazing booking volumes, then two days later everything
cancels," said Mantegazza. "It's unbelievable. There are bookings
out there, but you have to fight for them. I think it's the
toughest market I've ever seen."
Several operators say they had a fairly healthy recovery from
9/11 in the early months of 2002. Then progress started hitting
"Business began with a bang in the fall," said Cyndi Zesk,
marketing director for Collette Vacations. "It looked like 2003
would be a banner year. Then there was the threat of armed conflict
and it leveled off."
"My sense is that people who want to travel are still determined
to [do so]. We are seeing more close-in bookings than in any other
year. People still are shopping and want to go, but they are
holding off to make that final deposit. It leaves us optimistic
that if the conflict is resolved in a short period of time, we'll
see pent-up demand in April or May."
Everything "went soft" last week with code orange, according to
Apple Vacations' Ray Daley, who said the close-in booking trend
also is affecting his company. Daley said two-thirds of Apple's
bookings are for departures within 60 days. On the plus side,
however, the close-in bookings are solid.
"The people who are booking within 60 days mostly are coming
through," rather than canceling.
Jittery road warriors
Even seasoned business travelers can get the jitters, according
to the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
A recent survey found that a third of ACTE members already have
reduced international travel, and 82% say they will reduce it
further in the event of hostilities.
Also 51% said their travelers have expressed concern for being
abroad should hostilities break out.
Nearly all respondents said their companies have a contingency
plan in place that included evacuating or securing traveling
employees in the event of a terrorist attack or war.
Particularly sensitive to security concerns are the sponsors of
student groups, said Michael Palmer, executive director of the
Student Youth Travel Association, a trade group for operators
serving the student market. "I know some schools canceled trips. It
has clearly been a concern," particularly in the East.
It is possible that those student groups may stay home, Palmer
said, especially if the U.S. goes to war with Iraq. "We saw the
same thing with the Gulf War," Palmer said.
In addition to giving travelers the jitters, the orange alert
raised questions about access to certain visitor sites.
"Our visitors shouldn't experience any changes at all," said a
spokesman for the National Park Service, which operates such
attractions as the White House and the Washington Monument, the
Statue of Liberty in New York and the Liberty Bell and Independence
National Historic Park in Philadelphia, and the Gateway Arch in St.
"The increased security is very visible, but that is not
changing because of code orange," the spokesman said.
The spokesman, who would only discuss the security measures in
general terms, described the enhanced security as being similar to
that found in airports, including magnetometers and bag
However, the spokesman said, "if we were to go to code red, a
lot of things would change."
Nadine Godwin, David Cogswell, Jerry Limone and Michael
Milligan contributed to this report.