Island travel brokers hurt by Sept. 11

Bob Keady of Cruise, Inc. - Matt Johnson
Bob Keady of Cruise, Inc.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

South Whidbey residents, along with other Americans, have been worried about flying immediately following the events of Sept 11. That concern has translated into a decrease in business for local travel agents as travelers canceled planned vacations and business trips in the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington D.C.

A fear of flying has Americans staying closer to home, which is resulting in a slowdown in the travel industry.

"We are trying to have a positive attitude with our clients," said Janet Ploof, co-owner of Island Travel in Langley. "I understand people's concerns."

Ploof said that in the two weeks following Sept. 11, she and her staff were canceling trips for customers, refunding deposits, and finding ways to bring customers back home who were out of the country when the attacks took place. She said some of those travelers had to be routed through Canada due to the shutdown of United States airspace. Others, who chose to stay where they were, needed Island Travel to extend their accommodations.

"We had several people in Turkey and Europe on Sept. 11," Ploof said.

Airports were closed and planes were grounded immediately following the incident. Once they were reopened, travel was light. Corporations restricted business travel for a time as well, Ploof said.

She said she also blames a lack of consumer confidence as a factor in the slowdown.

"People are concerned about the economy and just aren't spending as much on extras like vacations," Ploof said. "In addition, the holiday season is traditionally a slow period for us as far as people taking big vacations because most made their holiday plans earlier in the year."

One of the trends Ploof sees is a renewed interest in destinations closer to home like the Carribean, Hawaii and Mexico. But she also noted air fares to Europe are a good deal at the moment.

Jane Greble, co-owner of Freeland's Island Travel, said she isn't seeing many people interested in flying now. However, she expects the trend to turn around.

"People are not flying as much as we hoped," she said. "But I expect we will see business pick up after the first of the year."

Business flyers and other regular travelers are already back purchasing tickets, she said.

"They don't seem to be as affected as the people who maybe take a trip a year," she said.

Bob Keady of Cruise, Inc., in Langley agreed that an upsurge in travel is coming. His business caters to travelers interested in spending more time aboard a ship than in the air.

"We saw some canceling right after Sept. 11 because travelers, in most cases, had to fly to ports of departure," he said. "Bookings are just now beginning to come back primarily because cruise fares are very low."

However, that price break may not last long, he said. Cruise lines are ratcheting fares back up on a regular basis to get them back to what they were before Sept. 11.

One change made by the cruise lines will probably last longer than the low fares. As a result of the terrorist attacks cruise lines are adjusting their itineraries, Keady said.

"Cruise lines are making an effort to find ports closer to home so travelers can drive, train or bus to the ship, rather than fly to the port of departure," he said.

Keady, who books both cruises only or cruises packaged with air, said travelers should look for an increase in the number of cruise ships docking in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Traditional sailing routes in the eastern Mediterranean and Indonesia are on hold right now, with more boats going to the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Hawaii. Keady predicted the cruise lines will adjust next year by adding more sailings in the Western Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Russia and the British Isles.

If for no other reason, Americans will again roam the globe in higher numbers next year because they can, said Island Travel's Grable.

"We as Americans, travel, that's our right and privilege so I don't expect that we will alter our lifestyle permanently."

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