War hits tourism with mixed results | SummitDaily.com

War hits tourism with mixed results

SUMMIT COUNTY – War might be keeping visitors away from Summit County, but it isn’t keeping locals from taking their vacations.

War in Iraq – and the specter of terrorist attacks – has prompted some airlines to trim flight schedules. In addition, at least one Summit County reservations agency reports that bookings are suffering over the ongoing military conflict at a time when the tourist season is already slowing.

Ski area officials, however, said the war hasn’t had a noticeable impact on visitors.

United Airlines announced last week it would reduce its flight schedule by 8 percent because of war in Iraq. The airline noted a 40 percent drop in bookings in the announcement. The schedule adjustment will include eliminating 104 domestic flights.

Delta, Continental and Northwest airlines also announced they would reduce their domestic and international flight volume.

All of the airlines cited travelers’ anxiety over flying while a conflict was in progress.

The Breckenridge Resort Chamber’s reservations division is seeing a similar effect, but the slowdown is just as much a result of war as it is a result of last week’s blizzard, director of operations Bill Wishowski said.

Wednesday, Wishowski said reservations were “paralyzed by the threat of war” in recent months, and now that war is in progress, “it’s really slowed down.” He added that reservations suffered while Interstate 70 and Denver International Airport were closed because travelers weren’t able to get to ski areas.

“Nobody’s called and said they’re canceling because of war,” Wishowski said. “But spring break’s basically over. We’re mostly doing Front Range and Colorado business. The destination business is small right now.”

The Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau books about 10 percent of the lodging in the Vail Valley. Director of communications Ian Anderson said, like the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, that the snowstorm last week seems to have caused more cancellations than the war did. Anderson said, overall, reservations are flat compared to the same time last year. He added that a new product, Vail On Sale, a Web site for purchasing last-minute travel deals, has seen sales skyrocket. Anderson said it’s hard to tell if the current travel trend is the result of war or other factors such as the economy.

Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said the ski areas haven’t seen any appreciable cancellations and skiers and snowboarders “are a resilient group when it comes to taking vacations.”

In February, Vail Resorts and some reservations agencies dropped cancellation fees. Prospective travelers expressed concerns over making plans in the face of a war with fees hanging in the balance if they changed their minds. Vail also extended the deadline for its children’s travel program, which allows kids to fly and stay for free at resorts when flying on certain airlines.

Copper Mountain spokesman Ben Friedland said it will take time before the exact repercussions of war are known.

“We’re getting to the period of the year where people are thinking about other activities,” Friedland said. “We’ll have to wait and see how it affects the summer business.”

Local travel agents said war hasn’t changed Summit County residents’ plans to get away for a break. Mexico, Hawaii and other locations with plenty of sun and sand are popular spring destinations for High Country residents. Travel agents said no one’s canceling reservations yet.

“The spring breakers are still going somewhere,” said Rachine Stein, owner of Travel Experts in Frisco. “And they’re going to international destinations, too. My son’s going to Austria. I’m going to Hawaii. I haven’t seen any reaction yet.”

Jackie Johnson of Trips ‘N Travel said plans for Europe seem to be slowing down, but “seasoned travelers are still going out.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.

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