Greek island cruises are taking the brunt of public reaction to the TWA jet hijacking in Athens and other recent incidents of international terrorism, but few tourist and business travelers have canceled their trips, despite some misgivings, according to travel industry sources.
"It definitely is affecting the cruise business," said Maureen Rosen, president of the Orange County Travel Agents Assn. and co-owner and manager of Compass Travel in Orange. "A few days ago I might have said no, but within the last few days things have changed greatly."
Rosen said that travel to London and Europe appeared unchanged, but that cruise business to Greece had been hit by "cancellations right and left."
"All of a sudden they've got 25 berths available in the next seven weeks," said Rosen, adding that it usually had been necessary to make reservations a year in advance for popular cruises during peak vacation times.
Princess Cruises of Los Angeles has substituted Naples for Athens on its next three cruises. "That's alleviated a lot of fears for people," said Max Hill, public relations director, adding that passengers and travel agents were immediately notified of the change in plans. Hill estimated that Princess has had 2% to 3% of its passengers cancel since the June 14 hijacking by Shia Muslims.
Manager Don Storey of World Travel in Santa Ana said his office had "three complete cancellations and about five that wanted to change but really couldn't because it was going to cost them money."
Storey said that some travel companies were waiving cancellation fees for the next few weeks as a good-will gesture.
"It could happen any place at any time," he said of airport terrorism, adding that tourists who wanted to be completely safe "might as well stay home and throw away their travel brochures."
Storey said that all the cancellations were for vacation travel, while business travel was "not changing at all. We have one company that goes into Libya all the time. The oil engineers are going in there . . . they get paid a fortune. If you get a contract to go over there you have to do it."
Business Travel Continues
Companies that send employees on business trips to the Middle East reported no change in that policy.
"We send people over there on a regular basis and they're still going," said Pat Davidson, travel manager for Holmes & Narver Inc., an Orange engineering firm.
Davidson said one man requested that his reservation for a personal trip be changed from TWA to El Al because that airline has armed security guards. An El Al ticket agent in New York said the airline has good security and has been very busy, with some customers switching from other airlines, but said she could not confirm whether armed guards were used.
Fluor Corp. spokesman Rick Maslin said business trips were continuing as usual, but the company was monitoring the situation and advising travelers to be cautious.
Surveys conducted by Travel Weekly, a trade magazine, and the American Society of Travel Agents showed customer concern about trips to the Mediterranean.
"There are numerous cancellations to the Greek Isles and the eastern Mediterranean, mostly vacation travel and tour packages," said Marilee Crocker, managing editor of Travel Weekly. "People are nervous, but there's not any kind of large scale cancellation of travel. Business travel is hardly affected at all."
"There is a certain amount of concern from travelers--especially about Athens, the Greek Isles, and Israel--but very few are canceling trips," said Jeff McKibben, a spokesman for ASTA. He said the State Department's travel advisory, issued June 18, was not a ban on travel to Greece, although it did warn travelers that an above-average potential for terrorism exists in that country.
Michael Cho, manager of Small World Travel in Santa Ana, said he had "three or four cancellations" for trips to the Middle East and Mediterranean, while Nancy Hansen of Julia Hyde Travel in Orange said, "We haven't had any cancellations, just comments."
A receptionist at the Automobile Club of Southern California office in Newport Beach said that some people had changed their plans but not many. She estimated that perhaps half a dozen customers had canceled their trips completely, with the rest changing to another destination instead of Greece.
"Reaction yes. Actual cancellations no--not so far," said a spokeswoman for Viejo Travel Service in El Toro.
"I haven't had any cancellations; of course, I don't have too many people going into that area," said Milton Schwartz of Santa Ana Travel.
"For about three years now I have not recommended that anyone taking a trip change flights in Athens because their security is so lax," said Schwartz. "That area, to me, has always been bad news." Schwartz said he prefers to route his customers through other cities, even if it involves an overnight stop.
"It's like anything else," said Schwartz. "Once you leave the confines of your homeland anything is possible."
TWA spokesman Larry Hilliard in Kansas City said that the airline still has its three daily scheduled flights into Athens, but that he could not say whether cancellations had taken place because of the hijacking and the current hostage situation, with 39 Americans being held captive.
"All of our focus has been on trying to resolve the situation in Beirut and we haven't really looked at that," said Hilliard.
Pan Am announced Tuesday that it would resume its daily flights to Athens Friday because of improved security precautions at the Athens airport. Pan Am suspended its service to the Greek capital June 19 because of security concerns after the TWA hijacking.
No Athens Requests
"I haven't had any requests for Athens," said Cindy Simon, manager of Firstworld Travel of Anaheim Hills, adding that she was not encouraging customers to travel to that area because of the State Department travel advisory.
"United Airlines and their strike were more damaging to the travel industry than the terrorism," said Simon.
"If nothing further happens and the hostages are released I think things will probably go back to normal, because people do forget," said Rosen, adding that she would not be afraid to travel personally, but "I can't make that decision for people. When you look at the number of passengers that travel every year, it's probably more dangerous on the freeway. But if it were a member of my family, I don't know. Statistics don't comfort those people's families."