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2003-03-11 05:31:20

Bahamas & U.S. Tourism Bracing For War

Ministry of Tourism to devise contingency plans to salvage premier industry.

As the U.S. tourism industry is bracing for impact of possible war with Iraq, so is The Bahamas, said Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe.

He told The Guardian over the weekend that The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and its relevant partners are scheduled to meet today, to devise contingency plans for such an impact.

The 9 a.m. meeting would comprise top level personnel from Tourism, the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (ZNS), Bahamas Information Services (BIS) and the Gaming Board.

"We are meeting to finalise plans to sustain our tourism product in the event a war breaks out," Mr. Wilchcombe said.

He said that the media would be briefed following the closed meeting.

The Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) recently released a Tourism Contingency Plan to sustain regional tourism as the possibility of a U.S.-Iraq war heightens.

The CHA advised member countries, including The Bahamas, to embark upon a PR campaign to emphasise the safety of hotels and resorts, as well as destinations, flight access from key US cities, and airport security.

"It's imperative to stay attentive to trends, not to panic and try to maintain as much as a 'business as usual' attitude as possible," the CHA further advised.

Meanwhile, the U.S. tourism industry is bracing for impact of possible war with Iraq.

It is said that the prospect of a U.S. war with Iraq, has the nation's already troubled tourism industry bracing for even harder times.

According to the Associated Press, Walt Disney World has stopped hiring and cut some workers' hours. Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise line, is lowering prices in hopes of luring more passengers. And airlines might have to cut their schedules. All cite concerns over the possible impact of war on their business.

Meanwhile, tourism-dependent destinations including Florida, Nevada, New York and Hawaii are considering new advertising campaigns if a war keeps visitors away.

"Even without factoring the war, we were looking to 2004, 2005 before we got back to 2000 levels," said Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Travel Industry Association of America. "War is inevitably going to push that recovery even further."

The consensus among industry leaders and observers is that the effects of war on leisure travel depends on how long the conflict lasts and whether there are any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Most agree international travel bookings will suffer if war breaks out, particularly hurting global airlines as it did 12 years ago during the Gulf War. Airline passenger traffic declined 8 per cent in the first quarter of 1991 and was down 2.2 per cent for the year.

It bounced back in the first quarter of 1992, increasing 6.7 per cent, according to the Air Transport Association, a trade organisation that represents most of the major air carriers.

Still, a recession and the effects of the war on air travel and jet fuel prices led to Midway and Pan Am airlines going under, observed industry leaders.

Airlines are facing high fuel costs, a sluggish economy, weak bookings following the Sept. 11 attacks and added security costs. United Airlines and US Airways are restructuring in bankruptcy court, and analysts have speculated American Airlines might follow.

The cruise industry, meanwhile, appears better positioned than it was in 1990 and 1991.

At the start of the Gulf War, cruise lines saw bookings drop, but reservations recovered as the conflict drew to a close after a few weeks. Back then, the cruise lines shifted itineraries closer to the United States and made similar moves following the terrorist attacks, aiming to reduce the need for customers to fly to their ports.

Carnival and No. 2 Royal Caribbean Cruises reported in recent weeks that uncertainty over war in Iraq and the economy have depressed bookings so far this year. Lower demand has forced the cruise companies to drop prices. Norwegian Cruise Line has also lost bookings because of concerns over war.

Tourism-dependent spots have already found would-be vacationers are having second thoughts.

Many destinations are considering new marketing campaigns.

In 1991, Florida had 1 million fewer visitors than it in 1990.

Florida had a record number of tourists in 2002, but their stays were shorter and they spent less money than in the past. And while hotel operators in north Florida have fared well due to a healthy drive-in market, the fly-in dependent South Florida and central Florida theme park hub are hurting.

An assessment by the Orlando-Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau concluded that if a new Iraq war is relatively short and there are no acts of domestic terrorism, tourism will build slowly and reach prewar levels in about a year.

By Lindsay Thompson, The Nassau Guardian

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