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Although it is an unpredictable, frequently frightening world, Americans will be traveling again this year--and quite possibly in numbers nearing the record set last year.

March 23, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

This is the consensus of industry leaders in an annual poll taken by The Times' Travel Section.

Despite the threat of terrorism, millions will leave these shores for new adventure overseas while others, less intrepid, will vacation in the United States.

The majority will avoid the world's trouble spots. In particular, tourism is expected to decline dramatically in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Italy especially are expected to suffer due to the memory of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in Athens, the recent carnage at the airport in Rome (and Vienna)and the terrorist takeover of the Italian liner Achille Lauro that resulted in the death of one American and the arrest of the hijackers.

Some predict that tourism to Europe will be off by as much as 50% while others are saying optimistically that new records will be chalked up. Realistically, travel agents admit that Europe will probably suffer. This will be due to a decline in the dollar's buying power as well as recent terrorist acts.

While it is impossible to predict the outcome of European travel in 1986, the experts agree that the Pacific is destined to enjoy its busiest season in years. The big swing will be to Australia where tourism during the final six months of 1985 grew by 40%.

Spinoff From Europe

"We're getting the backlash from Europe," said Alan Drew of the Australian Tourist Commission in Los Angeles.

Other Pacific destinations getting the spinoff from Europe include the Orient, New Zealand and French Polynesia.

Industry leaders questioned in The Times' poll made these additional comments:

--Canada will do exceptionally well in '86 (Expo in Vancouver will give tourism a big boost).

--Mexico is expected to recover from the decline in tourism after last year's earthquake.

--The Caribbean can expect a good year, along with South America.

--The Orient is heavily booked.

--Cruise business on the West Coast is expected to break records.

--Price wars will continue among the airlines.

Particularly the Pacific

Joseph Hallissey, chairman of the American Society of Travel Agents, predicts a "diversion of travel from the Middle East and the Mediterranean to other areas--particularly the Pacific."

Tim Bartlett of the British Tourist Authority told The Times:"Our inquiries are down over last year. There's a wait-and-see attitude. We think it's possible we will have as good a year as 1985." Bartlett said there is a "tremendous interest" in Scotland and Wales--"probably because of the exceptional tranquil image these places have."

Travel agents report thousands of cancellations or the shift by clients to different destinations because of the terrorist scare in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Earlier this year the 23-nation European Travel Commission on a promotion tour of the United States forecast--many think unrealistically--that 7 million Americans will visit Europe during 1986.

Speaking of Risks

Speaking on the risk of terrorism, U.S. Undersecretary for Travel and Tourism Donna Tuttle warned:"If we suggest that foreign travel may involve risk, we may contribute, inadvertently, to public panic. We may unintentionally encourage further terrorist acts by creating a forum and an atmosphere in which terrorists can command greater public attention."

Tuttle suggested that Americans are in for greater danger from automobile accidents at home than from terrorists overseas.

"Millions of Americans travel around the world and the numbers harmed are infinitesimal compared with those who complete their journeys safely," she said.

Eric Friedheim, the publisher of Travel Agent magazine, agrees. "I would take my wife to Europe. A terrorist act could occur at JFK as well as Rome."

Closer to home, Alaska's Inside Passage will be crowded with ocean liners, some repositioned from the Mediterranean. Princess Cruises decided to switch the Pacific Princess to Seattle from the Mediterranean (its entire fleet will be sailing the Inside Passage, May through September). Royal Viking Line restructured its Mediterranean program, and Royal Cruise Line intends to reposition the Royal Odyssey to the Pacific after a series of London/Scandinavia cruises.

Switched His Pitch

Earlier, Richard Revnes, president of Royal Cruise Line, joked with Americans:"Wouldn't you rather go to Rome than Nome?" Since then Revnes has switched his pitch.

Surprisingly, Revnes said the terrorist scare has resulted in record bookings for his cruise line.

"Since our move out of the Mediterranean," he said, "our bookings are the highest in two years."

Expo 86 in Vancouver is responsible for lively action in the Pacific Northwest. More than 150 companies are designing packages for Expo whose theme is "Man in Motion." The new $100-million Pan Pacific Hotel beside the Canadian Pavilion is booked solid for the entire six months starting May 2.

Other nations benefiting from the grim airport bombings in Rome and Vienna include Russia and several European nations.

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