Even Italy’s ‘Big Three’ Hit by Sagging Tourism

In Western Europe--hard hit by the economic downturn and the world traveler’s new fascination with Eastern Europe--even the previously sacred meccas of Florence, Venice and Rome are feeling the pinch. Those three cities have had their “must-see” status called into question after a humbling decline in the number of summer visitors. Hotel occupancy in July and August was down as much as 20% to 30% compared to last year, tourism officials and hoteliers said.

Although analysts speculate that most of the decline was caused by recession-tightened budgets and will prove to be temporary, they admit that notoriously high prices in those cities may be contributing, too. In response, Florence city officials have launched a plan for snack bars and restaurants in the city’s historic center to offer inexpensive lunch menus. And Venice is trying to attract off-season visitors with a “Venezia d’Inverno” (Venice in winter) package offering hotel discounts and free museum visits.

“We have to think low prices,” said Venice’s tourism chief, Gianfranco Pontel. “The good tourists might come no matter what, but even when they’re visiting Mecca they’re going to be budget-conscious.”

Travel Quiz: What area of the world is capped by the largest hole in the Earth’s ozone layer?


Lauds for Landings: Singapore’s Changi Airport has been voted best airport in the world by a readers’ poll of Business Traveler, a prestigious British travel magazine. Applauded were the speed and efficiency of the immigration and customs process, as well as ease of luggage retrieval, duty-free shopping and ease of transport to the city. Second was Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Taking Leave for Leaves: Among the nine best sites for viewing fall leaves, as chosen by the Automobile Association of America, here are four that may surprise:

--Alaska: Denali National Park, George Parks Highway (90 miles). Usually best seen in September.

--Michigan: U.S. 2, St. Ignace to Rapid River (126 miles). Late September, early October.


--Missouri/Arkansas: U.S. 65, Springfield, Mo., to Harrison, Ark. Connect with Arkansas 7, from Harrison to Russellville, Ark. (149 miles). Mid-October.

--New Hampshire: The Kancamagus Highway, between Lincoln and Conway (37 miles). Late September, early October.

Quick Fact: Airlines with the most comfortable coach seats: MGM Grand and Midwest Express. (Source: Consumer Reports Travel Letter.)

Best Bargains ... Bar Some: The Portuguese National Tourist Board suggests a good buy on Portuguese rugs can be found at the National Prison for Women near the town of Tires, about four miles northeast of Estoril, a resort area on the coast west of Lisbon. Inmates are taught the craft of weaving, and their rugs are sold in the prison at a cost of about 30% less than similar rugs in Lisbon.


Frequent Flier Miles Revisited: American Express, long a holdout from frequent flier programs, has just joined other credit-card companies in offering miles for tickets charged on the card--and a few dream experiences as well. Wanna take a free tap-dancing lesson with Tommy Tune? It’s yours for charging $250,000 on your credit card. How about a seven-day, self-drive tour of Germany in a Porsche, with accommodations in medieval castles? A mere $175,000. Under the new program, card-holders earn a mile for every dollar charged. After collecting 5,000 miles in an enrollment year, miles can be applied to frequent flier programs of Delta, Northwest, Continental, Southwest, MGM Grand Air, Midway and Pan Am.

Comparatively Speaking: Average cost of a cheeseburger, soft drink and fries in Copenhagen: $11.25. In Milan, Italy: $6.56. In Sao Paulo, Brazil: $5.22. In Sydney, Australia: $3.82. (Source: Runzheimer International.)

Dangerous Situations: Two-thirds of all incidents of political violence aimed at U.S. citizens last year took place in Latin America, according to a recent State Department report, which noted a total of 233 significant anti-American incidents worldwide in 1990, compared to 184 in 1989. Of these, 156 were in Latin America (compared to 117 the previous year), mainly aimed at private individuals and businessmen. The most dangerous countries for Americans were Chile, Colombia and Peru. The report noted 31 anti-American incidents in East Asia and the Pacific, but only eight in the Middle East, compared to 16 the previous year.

U.K.'s OK: The United Kingdom was the country that lured the most passengers--more than 10 million--from the United States last year, according to the U.S. Transportation Department. Next in line was Japan, then Mexico and Germany. Greatest gains were logged by Belgium (35.2% increase) and South Korea (26.4%).


Fair Warning: The 10th Annual Morro Bay Harbor Festival--in celebration of one of the few active fishing villages on the West Coast--will offer an opportunity to sample seafood and wines from the central coast, as well as local jazz, Big Band, rock and country music, Oct. 5-6. The tall ship Californian, a re-creation of a 1949 Revenue Marine Service cutter, will pay a visit, and there will be open houses on fishing boats to show how fishermen work, seafood cooking demonstrations, a farmer’s market, strolling minstrels, clowns and puppeteers and a rowing regatta. For more information, call (805) 772-1155.

Quiz Answer: The South Pole is topped by the Antarctic ozone hole, a huge fissure in the ozone that is believed to be caused at least in part by the release of chlorofluorocarbons from aerosol products.