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Growing Fears of Terrorism : U.S. Vacationers Turning Away From West Europe

January 11, 1986|WILLIAM C. REMPEL | Times Staff Writer

In the wake of post-Christmas terrorist violence that killed and injured several Americans in Rome and Vienna, there are increasing signs that American travelers may expand their de facto vacation boycott of Greece and Egypt to include much of Western Europe.

For example, the Princess Cruise Lines in San Pedro disclosed Friday that it is pulling out of the Mediterranean cruise market for 1986 because "American travel to Europe will be abysmal this summer," according to Vice President Max Hall.

Several major American corporations that had arranged to reward their top sales executives with European vacations have, in recent days, "touched off a mass movement" to Hawaiian destinations, said Dick Fordyce, president of E.F. MacDonald, a Minneapolis company that provides incentive travel services. "Our clients are saying they can't jeopardize their top people," Fordyce said.

Hyatt International Hotels in Chicago reported a surge in bookings for its Mexican resort properties from large convention groups that originally intended to meet in Europe. "It's too soon to know if it's a big trend, but it's noticeable," said Donna Simmons, public relations coordinator for Hyatt.

And one small travel agency near Los Angeles International Airport is recommending that its customers avoid Europe this year. "We recommend the Orient instead," Mori Taylor of Benjamin Travel Service said, "because we don't want anything to happen to our clients."

"European tourism will take a real shot to the head in 1986," Fordyce predicted. He said shifts among his clients alone mean that "well over 1,500" Americans have abandoned European destinations in the past two weeks.

"The mood we're picking up from our clients is that if the world's not going to help us do something about terrorism, then Americans are going to vote with their feet--they'll go somewhere else. I hope the European countries get the message loud and clear," the Minneapolis executive said.

So far, however, U.S. airlines say they have seen no slump. Spokesmen for Pan Am and TWA said passenger loads to Europe and the Middle East are normal in this traditionally slow winter travel period. The steadying influence of business travel, a reasonably strong dollar and low, off-season fares are credited with keeping airline traffic at normal levels.

"We get calls from people expressing concern about security, but we aren't seeing any fall-off in traffic," said Dann Oldani, a TWA spokesman in St. Louis.

James A. Arey of Pan Am acknowledged a few "isolated cases of individuals" canceling travel to Europe, but he said the New York-based airline has "noticed no significant trend that would indicate a slump" in transatlantic air travel. A spokeswoman for El Al, the Israeli national airline, said that travel to Israel remains unaffected as well.

Won't Show Up Until Spring

But Los Angeles travel agent Taylor said the slump won't show up until spring, when the vacation season begins. "Right now everyone is making plans," she said.

Already, American vacationers--concerned about security in Greece and Egypt in the aftermath of last summer's hijackings of a TWA jetliner out of Athens and the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean--have exhibited great reluctance to travel in those eastern Mediterranean countries.

A spokesmen for the Greek National Tourist Organization in New York said that 40,000 American tourists canceled travel to Athens late last summer and that early indications this year are that recovery is "still not good." Americans, who represent 8% of visitors to Greece but who account for 15% of tourist spending, are second only to the Japanese in importance to the Greek tourist market.

George Kouros of the Greek tourist office said the more recent attacks at Rome and Vienna airports were a further setback to efforts to "alleviate the legitimate concerns of Americans about security in Greece."

'A Real Blow to Us'

"That was a real blow to us. It has had a chilling effect on the American public," Kouros said. He added that the Greek government is launching a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign this spring to at least soften what some industry analysts predict will be a 50% drop in U.S. tourist traffic to Greece.

"Meanwhile, we are taking drastic measures in Greece to crack down on terrorism throughout our country," he said. "It is very costly--both financially and politically."

U.S. tourist traffic continues to suffer in Egypt, too. Samir Masry, president of Egyptian Travel Service in Los Angeles, said his business is down nearly 80%.

"This is the worst I've ever seen," Masry said. "People are scared about (Col. Moammar) Kadafi. Libya has to calm down before things can get back to normal. It might take some time."

Hall at Princess Cruise Lines said he hopes that things get back to normal by 1987 so that the Pacific Princess can return to the "idyllic waters of the Mediterranean." However, business was anything but idyllic last summer, the first time the cruise line had operated in the Mediterranean.

'Abysmal Disappointment'

"What began as a banner first year for us turned into an abysmal disappointment," he said, citing massive cancellations after the TWA and Achille Lauro hijackings.

This year, advance bookings for the Mediterranean cruise were "very low" even before the Rome and Vienna terrorist attacks which, company officials concluded, were the last straw. Earlier this week, Princess Cruises assigned the Pacific Princess to an Alaskan route.

"The American vacationer has decided he will go somewhere else this year," Hall said.

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