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Most travelers going ahead with plans despite alert issued after Osama bin Laden's death

Tour operators say there is no sign that hundreds of Americans visiting Egypt, Morocco, Iran and other largely Muslim countries plan to make major changes to their itineraries.

May 03, 2011|By Christopher Reynolds and Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • LAX police officers display a copy of the Los Angeles Times in their patrol car as heightened security measures went into effect at Los Angeles International Airport and at airports around the world after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden.
LAX police officers display a copy of the Los Angeles Times in their patrol… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Despite concern that Osama bin Laden's followers may seek retribution for his death, travel agents said Monday that most American travelers are going ahead with plans for business and leisure trips, even when visiting the Middle East.

Although the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert after President Obama announced Sunday that the leader of Al Qaeda had been killed, tour operators say there is no sign that hundreds of Americans visiting Egypt, Morocco, Iran and other largely Muslim countries plan to make major changes to their itineraries.

The alert warned Americans traveling to places "where recent events could cause anti-American violence" to limit their time outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.

Geographic Expeditions in San Francisco had about 50 clients traveling in Morocco, Egypt, Iran, eastern Turkey and Kurdistan on Monday morning, but their itineraries remain largely unchanged so far, company President Jim Sano said.

Bin Laden's death is "just one other facet" in the recent spell of turmoil in and around the Middle East, he added. As a matter of routine, Sano said his company got up to four updates daily from its security consultants and tailors plans accordingly.

Well before that State Department alert came out, Sano said, his company's groups in largely Muslim countries were avoiding high-profile locations associated with the U.S. — the U.S. Embassy, for instance — and hotels that carry iconic Western brand names.

The Geographic Expeditions group in Egypt also made a point of staying away from Cairo's Tahrir Square over the weekend, Sano said, because a major demonstration was expected.

In many cases, the last few months of Middle Eastern upheaval have already prompted tour operators to cut prices, especially in Egypt.

Abercrombie & Kent, a Downers Grove, Ill., operator of luxury tours, has been offering up to 45% discounts on trips to Egypt and Jordan. Still, many A&K customers were "taking a wait-and-see attitude, waiting to travel in the fall," so "it's a little too early to tell" what effect Bin Laden's death will have, company spokeswoman Jean Fawcett said.

At Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a Minneapolis company that specializes in business travel, "less than 1% of the clients made travel changes," spokeswoman Michelle Surkamp said. Those travelers changed from U.S. airlines to foreign carriers, she said.

Several corporate clients asked Monday that Carlson Wagonlit provide them with information to keep better track of their employees traveling abroad on business trips, Surkamp added.

The Transportation Security Administration said in a statement that the agency would continue to "evaluate the latest threats and screening measures which are implemented based on the latest intelligence" but declined to comment further.

Diane Embree, a travel agent who specializes in vacation trips to Asia at Michael's Travel Centre in Westlake Village, said none of her customers called Monday to cancel.

"I don't know that it's going to have much of an impact," she said, adding that she booked a vacation Monday for a couple to visit Bali. "They called today and said, 'Let's do it.'"

Travel experts pointed out, however, that most travel insurance policies will not reimburse travelers for the cost of a trip that is canceled solely over safety concerns.

Sano of Geographic Expeditions said it was not surprising that some travelers would be cautious about traveling now.

"If people are thinking about an international trip right now, with all this news 24/7," Sano said, "they're probably in their minds going, 'Hmm, should I go to Hawaii or Turkey?'"

chris.reynolds@latimes.com

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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