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Travel Agents Seek to Calm Security Fears

June 18, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Travel industry officials sought to reassure the public about safety Wednesday, but admitted that foreign cooperation in protecting airports against terrorist acts is not everything they would like.

Gabriel Phillips of the Air Transport Association said his group is trying to encourage foreign governments and airport authorities to tighten security by screening passengers and others as they head for ticket counters, rather than waiting until they go to boarding areas.

However, Phillips said, ″we’re getting less than satisfactory responses over there.″

″You have physical structures, passenger flow, built into existing terminals. You would have to change all that, and you have a certain amount of inertia built into effort ... it’s not easy,″ he said.

Asked to cite a specific example where officials are resisting this change, Phillips said: ″I’m talking about Heathrow,″ London’s major airport.

He said a recent inspection tour by officials of his group, which represents the nation’s airlines, found security ″ironclad″ at airports in Rome, Athens, Cairo and Tel Aviv.

Asked why English officials have been less cooperative in security changes than officials in other cities, Phillips said it is ″a question of perception.″

″The airports I mentioned in the eastern Mediterranean probably were the most heavily impacted by the travelers’ reaction (to terrorism), and they took measures and are taking measures to make sure that their airports are secure,″ he told reporters.

″The British, at this point, probably don’t feel the same degree of necessity that these other airports did,″ Phillips added. ″And that hopefully will change in time.″

″We are working with all the major European airports″ on security improvements, said Phillips, declining to discuss details further.

″We are confident that airlines have taken all proper measures, it’s safe to fly,″ he said.

Phillips spoke at a news conference called by the American Society of Travel Agents to announce publication of a new brochure: ″Travel Safely,″ which they said is aimed at making travelers more comfortable - but is not solely intended as a response to terrorism.

″We are not trying to highlight terrorism as an event.″ said Joseph H. Hallissey, chairman of the travel agents association.

But it was terrorism that took center stage at the session, including release of a poll showing that 98 percent of travel agents think fear of terrorism has been a factor in destination decisions by their clients.

″We are not here to wring our hands over this situation or to cast blame on anyone other than the terrorists,″ said Hallissey.

But the question has to be dealt with because most travelers are on holiday trips and that means they want to be relaxed and comfortable, he said.

″If they are going out with fear and trepidation, it certainly is not a very comfortable situation, and therefore why bother,″ Hallisey said.

″If they feel uncomfortable about a destination they probably won’t go there. And maybe the American public has made a statement on terrorism in that respect,″ he added, noting widespread reports of a decline in tourism to Europe and other destinations.

″Until that level is one that they feel is going to be a good experience, they’re probably going to avoid it,″ he said.

The new brochure deals not only with terrorism - urging people, for example, to stay away from crowded public areas in airports as much as possible - but also packing, what documents to carry, staying in good health and other questions.

It will be available through members of the travel agents association, and is being issued just as some of the reported decline in overseas travel appears to be easing.

The June 16 edition of Travel Weekly, the trade publication of the industry, reported, for example, that bookings to some parts of Europe, notably the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, are showing signs of rebounding from the earlier slump.

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