HOUSTON (AP) -- The New York crash of an American Airlines jetliner Monday came just as the $186 billion tour industry was beginning to rebound from its post-Sept. 11 doldrums, said travel executives meeting in Houston.
Tour operators, convening at the annual convention of the National Tour Association, told reporters Monday that bookings were just beginning to outpace cancellations. Now, nobody knows what will happen.
"Things were picking up, you could see that. (Travelers) were positive about going places and doing things," said Joseph Rymer of Golden Age Festival tours, which caters to cross-country bus travelers in the United States and Canada.
"Could the timing have been any worse? I don't think it could have been," he said.
Authorities were investigating the cause of Monday morning's crash of the American Airlines jetliner in the Queens borough of New York City. All 255 people aboard were killed, and at least six others were reported missing on the ground.
A panel of seven tour operators reported declines in business and steep drops in planned travel for 2002, especially among school groups which appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to class trips, especially to New York and Washington, D.C.
Tour companies are trying to come up with alternate destinations for history classes that normally would visit those cities, which were hit during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but replacing them is not easy.
"Our challenge is that there is not another Washington, D.C., nor this there another New York City," Rymer said.
Dave Snyder of Travel Adventures, based in Michigan, added that it will be difficult to get a consensus among students and parents about alternate destinations.
Rochester, Minn.-based Ed-Ventures, which specializes in customized tours to Europe, was enjoying one of its best autumns and only lost one planned tour to a flight cancellation on Sept. 11, tour operator Larry Larsen said.
"The rest of the groups (scheduled to go this fall) all went," Larsen said. "Our bigger concern is what's going to happen next year.
"The signs were starting to get good, but I don't know what this morning did."
Larsen added that travelers have been jittery at the slightest bad news, such as two terrorism warnings issued by the White House last month.
"Every time the president makes an alert announcement, the phones quit ringing," Larsen said. "They're being sensitive to what might be happening."
While travel to Europe, Asia Minor and, of course, the Middle East and Central Asia has dropped off because of trepidation, tour operators agreed that domestic travel should benefit next year.
Older Americans are less likely to change their plans based on current events, operators agreed. And officials said the effects on U.S. destinations are based somewhat on where they are.
"The further west you go from the northeast corridor, (Sept. 11) seems to have a milder impact on their business," said Randy Julian, of Julian Tours in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va.
Overall, the group was optimistic their industry would weather the current woes and that tour operators would switch gears to address altered travel demands.
"Americans are going to travel. It's what we do, and that's never going to stop," said Mike Daly of Collette Vacations, which has endured several wars and economic downturns since its 1918 founding. "It's just where are we going to go, and how are we going to get there?"
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