- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The disappearance of a high school senior during a graduation trip to Aruba will not have a major effect on student travel there or other popular destinations, but it should make travelers — and parents — more cautious, travel industry officials said.

“I wouldn’t say that a lot of people will not go because of it,” said Lawrence Chirico, vice president and general manager of A&B; Travel in New York. “I’m sure there will be a few people who will be hesitant and ask a few questions, but I’m sure the bulk will go.”

A&B; Travel books about 100 to 150 trips to Aruba each year. Mr. Chirico said the island is known as being crime-free, safe and clean.

Natalee Holloway, 18, was on a senior trip on the Caribbean island with classmates from her Alabama high school when she vanished May 30.

The government of Aruba and the Aruba Tourism Authority is conducting a thorough investigation, according to the island’s official tourism and travel Web site.

The Caribbean is a popular destination for U.S. travelers. Nearly 5.4 million Americans visited the Caribbean in 2003, according to the Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

The U.S. State Department, which issues travel warnings recommending Americans avoid certain areas, has not issued any such warning for Aruba or the Caribbean.

Jake Jacobsen, vice president at Student Travel Services in Glen Burnie, Md., said the disappearance should have little effect on destinations his agency books, such as Jamaica and Mexico.

“I think the situation is isolated in Aruba,” Mr. Jacobsen said. “But I don’t think it represents Aruba in general as a dangerous destination.”

Stuart Carroll, owner of Carroll Travel in the District, said Miss Holloway’s disappearance won’t necessarily result in canceled bookings this season, but that it will make students and parents look more closely at trips.

“Kids should learn to be more mindful of their surroundings,” Mr. Carroll said. “It could happen anywhere — it could happen in Aruba, or it could happen in D.C. And as a parent, you’ve got to look twice and check the level of supervision.”

Officials at public school systems in the D.C. area said yesterday that Miss Holloway’s disappearance will not affect their student travel policies.

Ocean City, which turns into a Mecca for graduating seniors during the first three weeks of June, hasn’t seen any signs of canceled trips.

The Maryland beach resort sends representatives of the police department to area high schools to give students tips on being safe and tell them what behavior is expected while they are in town, said Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for Ocean City’s Department of Tourism.

In addition, Ocean City’s “Play it Safe” program, started 16 years ago, offers drug-free and alcohol-free activities for graduating seniors such as beach volleyball tournaments, karaoke competitions, miniature golf and laser-tag games.

Last year, a record 12,400 high school seniors participated.

• Sarah Lesher contributed to this report.

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