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Tourism Threatened by U.S. Travel Warning With PM-Lebanon Hijack, Bjt

June 21, 1985

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Hotel, tour, and cruise operators say Americans are rushing to cancel summer vacations in Greece following the hijacking of a TWA jet from Athens and President Reagan’s travel advisory about the Athens airport.

More than 20,000 Americans have canceled bookings for cruises in the Greek islands during the past two days, according to unofficial estimates. Two of Athens’ leading hotels reported Thursday more than 2,000 cancellations by U.S. groups.

The travel advisory was issued after two Shiite Moslems got through airport security in Athens and, armed with grenades and guns, hijacked a TWA Boeing 727 that was bound for Rome with 153 passengers and crew.

Most of the passengers and crew have been freed, but one American was killed and 40 others remain hostage in Beirut.

Nikos Skoulas, Greece’s head tourism official, urged Americans to ignore Reagan’s warning about the threat of terrorist attacks in the Greek capital.

″We appeal to Americans not to sacrifice a vacation they planned on the altar of political expediency and ruin their enjoyment of a beautiful, affordable country,″ said Skoulas, secretary general of the National Tourist Organization.

Americans account for less than 10 percent of Greece’s tourists, but they are prized visitors. They stay in luxury hotels, sail the Aegean Sea in yachts and cruise-ships, and spend freely.

The National Tourist Organization said more than 500,000 Americans had been expected to visit Greece this year, up from 474,000 last year.

Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign exchange earner, expected to bring in more than $1.5 billion this year.

″Things look black. We’ve had 600 cancellations today and other lines say their telexes are busy all the time with people pulling out,″ said Constantine Veloudakis of Cavounides Lines, a leading cruise company.

In Athens’ port of Piraeus, where luxury yachts are chartered to wealthy Americans at upwards of $1,000 a day, charters reported more than 50 cancellations.

Apostolos Doxiades, president of the Athens hotel association, said two luxury hotels had each reported cancellations by large tour groups, ″making up 2,000 room-nights in all.″

″I think the incentive tours, organized by companies as a bonus for their staff will suffer most - there, one person feels responsible for a whole group’s safety,″ Doxiades told The Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for a summer cultural program said a California high school group had canceled its visit to Greece and several others were considering pulling out.

There have been no reports so far of Europeans canceling trips to Greece.

″It’s an American reaction. That may partly be because European tourists often come in at Greek airports other than Athens, and partly because no European government has reacted the way Reagan did,″ said a hotel publicity executive who asked not to be named.

Athens Airport Commander George Papadimitropoulos insisted Thursday that Greek security controls matched any in Western Europe.

″We’re up to international standards, and our equipment is up to date and comparable to that used at other West European airports,″ he told a group of foreign reporters at the airport.

He said he believed the weapons were aboard the plnae when it arrived in Athens from Cairo.

The TWA flight, a feeder service for a flight from Rome to the United States, originated in Cairo and made an hour-long stopover in Athens.

The airport commander said a new $580,000 fence around the airport’s 11- mile perimeter will go up by the end of the year, but no other security improvements were planned.

″But our 500 security staff are working very alertly. A tourist country like Greece can’t afford trouble,″ he said.