Originally created 03/19/03

Travel agencies foresee drop-off



Ann Bruno and her co-workers at AAA Travel Agency's Augusta office met Tuesday to prepare for possible travel cancellations in the midst of a war with Iraq.

"I went over it with my travel staff about how to address the customers' concern," she said. "And this is a big concern for them."

Mrs. Bruno, the travel manager for AAA in Augusta, said business so far has stayed steady at her office, but the crisis in Iraq will probably lead to cancellations and has already caused some Augustans to change their vacation destinations abroad.

"We've had a lot of (travelers) not want to go to France or Germany," she said, referring to the two countries that have taken a stance against a U.S.-led war in Iraq. "They tend to go to England or Ireland instead."

Judy Reville, of AAA of Augusta, said she hopes vacationers will change their destinations rather than cancel their trips if there is a concern.

"Hopefully, a lot of people will understand they can still travel," she said.

But if a cancellation is necessary, air and cruise lines are allowing trips to be re-booked at a later date.

"They are allowing a certain time limit without the penalty charge," Mrs. Bruno said.

War isn't the only concern for the future of travel, with gas prices rising to all-time highs and a recent outbreak of a mysterious flulike illness, mostly in Asia. Still, Mrs. Bruno said now is the best time economically to travel.

"If anybody wanted to catch a good deal, now is the time to do it," she said, noting that higher gas prices haven't inflated flight costs. She said Continental Express continues to offer a round-trip flight to San Francisco for $198.

Kathryn Solee, the marketing director for Augusta Regional Airport, said those flying also shouldn't have security concerns in light of the terrorism alert being raised to orange.

"What we have done is increase our awareness, exercise vigilance and increase security," she said, adding that security changes are not visible to the public.

Cruises also have been cheaper than normal because of the conflict with Iraq.

"This time of year, a lot of the ships are over in the Mediterranean," Mrs. Bruno said. "But because of the war over in that area, they're repositioning to the Caribbean."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.