Tough times for travel industry |

Tough times for travel industry

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

The threat of an Iraqi invasion and high fuel prices have pinched travel bookings for agents from the South Shore to Washington, D.C.

The industry is already reeling from airline bankruptcies, Internet competition and a sputtering economy,

Travel to Europe is down, some saying by as much as 50 percent in contrast to previous years.

“They’re not making summer plans because they don’t know what will happen with the economy and the world situation. There’s definitely a decrease,” said Jeanne Hart of Edelweiss Travel of South Lake Tahoe. “Last year it was a slow year because of 9-11. This year they’re using gas prices and war as an excuse.”

Travelers have shied away from reserving airfares overseas because of the fear of getting stranded far from home.

Hart has found about 30 percent more of her clients are opting for Canadian trips this summer in comparison to last year. They’ve also shown more interest in Mexico.

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Jane Starkey of Emerald Travel believes these two countries are hot destinations because travelers feel more secure with staying on the same continent.

“People are not traveling to the Middle East and we’re not seeing Europe as a destination vacation as we did in the past,” the South Lake Tahoe travel agent said.

Cruises also represent preferred options, despite the rash of illnesses on some of the larger carriers.

For the airlines the question remains whether the carriers will drop fares to reflect diminishing interest during their busiest season.

“They can’t make them too expensive because no one’s going to go anywhere,” Starkey said.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Some agents think the rates could stay high because the airlines want to put a good face on a dire situation. They may also want to make up for lost profits by cashing in on those who rely on booking during the summer break to spend time with their children, said Lake Tahoe Travel agent Kay Dolden of Incline Village.

The trends expand beyond the basin.

The American Society of Travel Agents is convinced prices may stay steady, reflecting springtime rates.

“It’s unquestionable travel is down. There’s certainly been a decline to Europe. The orange alert certainly hurt,” ASTA President Richard Copeland said from his Washington, D.C. office in reference to the government’s high security alert status.

Copeland has seen bookings that indicate U.S. travelers are choosing to vacation closer to home.

As tourism officials have noticed of vacationers coming to Lake Tahoe in the last few years, national travelers have also shown a penchant for reserving trips one to three weeks in advance instead of the traditional three to six months.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at