- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The travel and tourism industry, still recovering from the devastating effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks, is bracing for war.
Popular tourist destinations are getting ready to fight a familiar battle and take the necessary steps to minimize the loss of business despite the uncertainty of the war and the effects it will have on the economy and consumer spending.
"Wars are never good for tourism," said Cristyne L. Nicholas, president and chief executive of NYC & Co., New York City's marketing organization. "This is an issue for all visitor destinations."
Industry officials say the unknown elements of a war with Iraq when it will start, how long it will last and any retaliation on U.S. soil make it difficult to figure out what they need to do when planning marketing efforts. But all agree that sitting back and doing nothing is not an option.
"We can't afford to be observers," said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There's a great potential for loss. We're going to continue to prepare for the worst and be hopeful for the best."
The Fort Lauderdale area which posted an 8.5 percent decrease in revenue last year has in place advertising efforts, including specials and discounts, and can start them at a moment's notice.
Once war begins, the bureau will determine through focus groups and research when the appropriate time will be to continue advertising and marketing.
"I think the travel industry is going to take a wait-and-see attitude and respond accordingly," said Bob Jones, an analyst with OneTravel.com, an online travel service.
Mr. Jones expects consumers will travel, but will change their plans. For example, they will avoid high-risk destinations.
"The people who have always traveled are traveling," Mr. Jones said. "Those who haven't traveled since 9/11 still aren't traveling."
Orlando, Fla., home of Walt Disney World and other amusement parks, isn't taking any chances. Officials there have devised several plans to determine the duration and type of advertising to be used in coming weeks.
"We're being very flexible because we don't know how this will play out," said Danielle Saba Courtenay, a spokeswoman for Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc.
Many travel and tourism officials expect the inevitable: visitation will drop, especially in the weeks immediately following an official declaration of war similar to the results of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war.
During 1991 to 1992, the number of domestic visitors to Orlando fell between 5 and 7 percent. Canadian visitation was off 10 percent to 20 percent, while overseas numbers declined 31 percent to 37 percent.
Airline passenger traffic declined 8 percent in the first quarter of 1991 and was down 2.2 percent for the year.
It bounced back in the first quarter of 1992, increasing 6.7 percent, according to the Air Transport Association, a trade organization that represents most of the major air carriers.
"We're trying to anticipate where the impact [of war] might be and calculate a response that will be commensurate," said Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United, the nation's second-largest airline, which is in bankruptcy protection.
Todd Burke, spokesman for American, the nation's largest carrier and which has hired a lawyer in case it files for bankruptcy, said the airline is prepared to make flight-schedule decisions if necessary.
"We expect a drop-off in traffic, especially in international markets, such as Europe, but how deep these cuts might be will depend on the extent of military action," Mr. Burke said.
Several major carriers said they will drop some travel restrictions in the event of war.
Unlike the airlines, the cruise industry is in much better shape than it was during the Gulf war 12 years ago. Even then, it bounced back rather quickly.
"Historically, we're very resilient," said Bob Sharak, executive director of the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 95 percent of the cruise line industry.
In 1991, the number of passengers increased 9 percent compared with 1990, Mr. Sharak said.
"The war wasn't prolonged," he said. "We rebounded and picked up steam."
The same was true after the September 11 attacks. In 2002, the cruise industry had nearly 8.7 million passengers worldwide, up 15.5 percent from the previous year.
But for now the uncertainty over war in Iraq and the faltering economy has resulted in a drop in bookings on some cruise lines, including Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line. As a result, the cost of a cruise has dropped in an effort to get more passengers to book.
"What it will mean is fantastic deals for consumers," said Colin Veitch, president and chief executive of Norwegian.
This article is based in part on wire reports.

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