Travelers enjoy gondola rides in Venice, Italy. Photo: gnuckx
Despite terrorist attacks making headlines this year, the summer travel season in Europe is going strong.
The hospitality and travel industry in Europe braced for a drop in tourists after terrorist attacks struck Brussels and Paris. But agents say the demand for trips to Europe this summer hasn’t wavered.
European river cruises, particularly on the Danube River from Germany to Budapest, have remained a popular choice, as they allow travelers to take in scenic views in a more intimate setting and visit multiple destinations, said Diane Bower, travel professional at CruzDiva Travel in Huntersville, NC. Beth Leonardt, of Vacations by Beth, LLC, in Houston, TX, also has been booking river cruises on the Danube and Rhine rivers, and still sees it as a favorite amongst her clients.
Still, though business as a whole is on the rise, travelers are adjusting their itineraries to avoid certain cities.
Stefanie DeBernardo, of Contrino Travel, Inc., in Staten Island, NY, has booked trips to both Germany and Italy. She said her more senior clients have the mentality that it’s now or never, and the younger ones tend to think, “I’m going to live my life, despite the consequences.”
Bower said the best way to help worried clients is to remain calm. “I don’t tell them they shouldn’t go [to Paris]; if you sound fearful of course they’re not going to go. They’re looking to you for advice.”
One of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Paris, saw bookings decrease by about 10%. Said Colleen Gillette, owner of New Paltz Travel in New Paltz, NY, “I don’t think travelers are hanging out in Paris, but they’re still going [to Europe].”
Indeed, they’re opting for lesser-known locations like Reykjavik, Lisbon, and Madrid. Gillette said two countries in particular in which she’s seeing a rising interest are Iceland and Italy. Spain, already a popular summer destination, is likely to see a strong season since it hasn’t been affected by recent terror attacks; Portugal, too, is popular. Cities that typically draw large crowds, like London and Rome, however, are being avoided.
The strong dollar is helping to encourage Americans to stick with their plans overseas. “Stable prices affect the mindset of the consumer,” said Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel in San Diego, CA.
Bower, too, noted that low prices, coupled with a strong dollar, are a great motivation to book, and are helping getting travelers off the fence.
Zika Hits Caribbean Travel
The Caribbean, far from terrorist hubs, is under a different form of attack this summer—from the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.
“The problem I’m seeing with the Caribbean is people are still nervous about Zika,” said Leonard, who did have one nervous client, but was able to talk her through it. “But a good travel agent offers knowledge and expertise they can’t get on the internet. She went and ended up having a great time.”
“People are thinking twice,” agreed Gillette, who did have one client cancel her Jamaican honeymoon because of the virus. “We normally get customers who go to the Caribbean in the summer, but not this year.”
The mosquito-borne virus that has been affecting countries in the Caribbean and Latin America has been linked to birth defects in newborns, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant should avoid travel there.
DeBernardo, who has her own plans to travel to Mexico at the end of the month, said it’s important for travelers to do their research and be prepared.
“People are afraid,” she said. “It’s important for the industry to better protect certain regions so there aren’t any unwarranted fears.”