Few Cancellations among Travel Agency Customers to Paris

by Donna Tunney

So far, suppliers say, most vacationers booked to travel to Paris are moving ahead with their plans—at least among the high-end customer base that traditionally books through a travel agency.

“Most of the calls we've been getting are asking about the status of tours – and are we still operating them,” said Vanessa Parrish, spokesperson for the Globus family of brands, including Globus, Cosmos, Avalon Waterways, and Monograms. “People, customers and agents, are wanting to make sure their trips are still a go, and they are. We are operating normally and have had just a handful of cancellations.”

All of the Globus brands are offering options to booked clients, however. On Monday the company announced that any guest scheduled to travel within the next month (through Dec. 14) on a tour, cruise, or travel package that includes Paris can rebook to another 2015 or 2016 departure date without penalty.

“We wanted to be sensitive to those who still want to go but maybe don't want to go right now,” Parrish said. “We have not had a lot of rebookings, but the policy was well received by agents because we are giving people a choice.”

Regarding a longer range outlook, Parrish noted, “We all wish we could predict the future. We are monitoring everything very closely with our [ground] operators in Europe.”

Globus customers are “very practical, and that tends to trump emotion,” she noted; the strong dollar and heightened security are good reasons to travel to Europe this fall. “People realize that, and they want to support these countries and not let the bad people win.”

Other tour operators agree that the situation is fluid and that future travel plans will depend, in part, on what happens next.

Bob Drumm, president of Alexander+Roberts (formerly General Tours) said, “I don’t feel this will affect the market in Paris tourism based on my experience with the Charlie Hebdo shooting last year, which didn’t affect any Paris trips this year. I have had one couple cancel at this point.” But “it may be too soon to tell” about longer-term ramifications.

A spokesman for upmarket operator Tauck said the company isn't currently operating any departures in France, and its next trips to the destination aren't scheduled until spring. 

“We have received calls from some guests asking about cancellation fees (which remain unchanged), but the overwhelming majority are just reviewing their options and taking a wait-and-see approach,” he said.

Tauck has had a few cancellations, he added, but at the same time is continuing to take new bookings to Europe - including to France - from “guests who refuse to put their travel plans on hold.”

“That reflects a trend we've observed over recent years,” said the spokesman, “as our guests have grown to be less influenced by world events and become more determined to travel.” 

A spokeswoman for Collette noted that mid-fall isn't prime time for Paris tours, and added that travelers can consider that heightened security is a positive thing for a destination.

“Security is heightened, [and] many experienced agents have been making this point to travelers as a good time to visit France because of that fact,” she said. Collette hasn't had any cancellations yet, though it has a “very flexible cancellation policy.” She suggested the industry could see “a large increase in domestic tours versus European ones” as a result of the attacks.

River cruises maintaining their steam

River cruise lines also are continuing to monitor the situation and some are offering no-penalty cancellations to clients who may be leery of traveling in the coming weeks.

Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of the luxury line Ama Waterways, said, “While our cruises are not affected, we are permitting guests who [are] booked on AmaDagio to cancel if they wish, with no penalty. They will receive a future cruise credit. Otherwise, there are no changes to our existing cancellation policy.”

The AmaDagio sails a Provence and Spain itinerary that includes three nights in Paris. Its final cruise of the season departs Sunday, Nov. 22.

Karst added, “We believe river cruising is one of the safest, most peaceful and relaxing ways to visit Europe and look forward to continuing to welcome travelers onboard our beautiful ships in France, and elsewhere.  At this time, none of our cruises in the region have been impacted, and we do not anticipate any changes in our day to day operations or marketing efforts.”

Ama Waterways has not experienced any effects on cruises in other Western Europe destinations as a result of the Paris tragedy, she said.

At Viking River Cruises, a spokesman said Europe sailings are going ahead normally, and no changes were made to itineraries.

“The safety and security of our guests and crew is always our top concern, and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely as events unfold. Should any itinerary modifications become necessary for upcoming departures we will notify those guests directly,” he said.

Retailers said that experienced travelers are more likely to move forward with planned trips.

“At the moment, I just have a business traveler headed to Paris who is more concerned about the upcoming French air traffic control strike next week than on the security issues in the city,” said Heather Olestra, an agent with Democracy Travel in Washington, D.C.  

“I have not heard any 'chatter,' to borrow a repurposed intelligence word, that our clients would consider changing their future plans to visit Paris, France, or the rest of Europe.  My daughter is planning her honeymoon to Paris next year,” said Dolstra, adding, “My clients are well traveled, and this may make a difference in their reactions.”

Agent Susan Aft, of Atlanta-based Discount Travel and Cruise, said she thinks it's too early to tell about cancellations.

“I haven't had many questions at this point. I do think more experienced travelers would have less apprehension than not so experienced ones,” Aft said.  “But I think it's a wait-and-see situation.”

Photo courtesy: Moyan Brenn

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