Saturday, September 29, 2001

Home never looked so good

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Capri can wait.

        Norwood resident Karen Pugh and her parents, who live in San Francisco, have decided they don't need to see Paris, Rome and the Italian Riviera this fall after all.

        Like thousands of other Americans who fly for leisure, the trio canceled its vacation plans last week and decided to wait to see how safe and convenient traveling will be next year.

        “Mom was real nervous, but my dad and I weren't afraid to fly,” Ms. Pugh says. “Basically, we didn't want to get caught in Rome if there was retaliation.”

        In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the airline industry is suffering from its most severe decline ever. Most airlines have cut the number of flights by as much as 20 percent. About 100,000 airline and related workers have been laid off across the country, and more than 800 Delta jobs are in jeopardy here.

        One-third of all Greater Cincinnatians say they are afraid of flying, according to a new poll by Survey USA for WCPO-TV. In the past two weeks, one in 10 Cincinnati-area leisure travelers have canceled vacations that required air travel.

        Reluctance to fly touches all income levels.

        “Six-figure people are hesitating,” says Sandra Tugrul, who has owned Waves Travel, based in Lebanon, for five years. “One family pretty well planned to go on a cruise at Christmas. They put their deposit down, and last week they canceled.

        “There's a feeling of wanting to be with family, but people don't want to leave. It's a phenomenon that we've never seen before.”

        International travel has been staggered by the hijacking of four airliners and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. During the first eight months of 2001, tourism worldwide this year was expected to grow 2.5 percent to 3 percent, following a 7.4 percent increase in 2000, according to the World Tourism Organization.

        Now the group, based in Madrid, Spain, projects just a 1.5 percent to 2 percent growth this year. Global tourism was a $476 billion industry last year.

        The national travel and tourism industry has been badly hurt, too. The slowdown will have lasting repercussions on an industry that provides 19 million jobs and employs one of seven workers in the country, according to the Travel Industry Association of America, based in Washington, D.C.

        Local travel agents say calls are trickling in for vacation-planning advice. About 3.6 million airline passengers who started a trip in Cincinnati last year were flying for some reason other than business, according to local air industry officials.

        “Business right now is the pits,” says Hugh Berry, president of Faith Tours & Travel in Bond Hill.

        “I'd say that 75 percent of the (vacation) trips planned in the next four to six weeks have been canceled,” adds Dolly Kohls, owner of Integra Travel, a travel agency that has booked business and leisure travel here since 1986. “People are afraid they'll get someplace and not be able to get home.”

        Some experts are hopeful that Americans' reluctance to fly to distant lands or states might be a boon for tourism attractions closer to home.

        People will look to alternatives, insists Lynn Jamieson, chairwoman of the department of recreation and park administration at Indiana University in Bloomington. “They will be riding in trains and cars,” she says.

        An expert on travel and tourism, Ms. Jamieson predicts that a prolonged decline in air travel will last longer than one or two seasons and certainly through this fall and winter.

        Ms. Jamieson, who has studied and written about American travel habits for 18 years, thinks local leisure attractions need to tout their communities.

        “It is a golden time for convention and visitor bureaus and those who market the local experience,” she says.

        It's too soon to tell whether local tourism will pick up, says Julie Harrison, director of communications for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But people are already traveling by car more.”

        State officials, too, are reluctant to make any sweeping predictions. “We've heard from some destinations that are down, but others are up. There is nothing we can piece together to show a trend,” says Jim Epperson, deputy director of the division of travel and tourism in the Ohio Department of Development.

        Not everyone is walking away from vacations that require air travel.

        Eddie Lane, president of Equity Diamond Brokers Inc., the parent company of EDB's Diamond Showroom, won't cancel a planned vacation to Hilton Head Island, S.C. He's not driving, either.

        “I was in Israel when the Scuds (missiles from Iraq) were flying,” he says. “I got out through Egypt. My thinking is this: You have to go on with your life. Have I canceled? Will I cancel? Absolutely not.”


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