U.S. Operators Scrap China Tours Because of Crisis
NEW YORK (AP) _ China’s upheaval has prompted U.S. tour operators to cancel vacation packages there and compelled airlines specializing in the Pacific region to re-evaluate their service to Chinese cities on a daily basis.
A number of operators, including American Express, said Tuesday they’ve decided to scrub tours to China - an increasingly popular destination for U.S. travelers before the military crackdown in Beijing on pro-democracy demonstrators. Tourism also had been one of China’s fastest-growing industries.
Customers, who have been promised full refunds, may experience delays in claiming them from smaller companies, travel experts warn.
Companies continuing normal operations, such as United Airlines, are keeping a watchful eye on developments in China because of what emerged as the possibility of a civil war.
″We’re continuing to monitor the situation,″ said Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United at its Chicago headquarters.
The airline is operating a normal schedule of three flights a week between Tokyo and Beijing, he said. ″The flight yesterday had a very light load going in (to Beijing) - just five people. We had 307 going out,″ Hopkins noted.
Since the weekend violence, United has adjusted the schedule so that the planes arrive at Beijing in daylight, stay about an hour and leave.
Japan Air Lines has doubled its Tokyo-Beijing schedule by adding three extra flights a week, according to Morris Simoncelli, a spokesman for the carrier in New York. The flights out of Beijing are fully booked through Saturday, he said.
The State Department issued a new travel advisory Monday, warning Americans not to visit China and, for those in Beijing to stay indoors. The department also urged caution in other Chinese cities.
On Tuesday, the Bush administration urged the 1,440 Americans in Beijing to get out, and said it was considering using chartered aircraft to evacuate Americans from the capital and other areas of the country.
American Express, one of the biggest U.S. tour operators, on Monday canceled its six packages to China for June. It promised refunds and waived cancellation fees for China tour packages for the rest of the year.
The company’s four tour groups currently in China - about 80 travelers in all - have been told to cut their visits short and leave the country immediately, said Marcos Rada, a spokesman in New York for American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc.
As for future tours to China, the travel giant is taking a wait-and-see posture, Rada said.
Other tour operators have adopted a similar approach. They, too, are promising full refunds and no cancellation penalties on scrubbed tours to China.
″We’re looking at it on a day-by-day basis,″ said Lythia Rousseas, a marketing associate for Pacific Delight Tours in New York, widely considered the largest U.S. tour operator specializing in China and the Far East.
Travel specialists warn, however, that refunds from smaller operators may be delayed, especially in cases where Chinese hotels and other businesses have been paid in advance. Refunds must pass from those businesses to tour operators, which act as wholesalers, to travel agents to customers.
″It may be a while before it comes back,″ said an official of the American Society of Travel Agents in Alexandria, Va., who asked not to be identified by name. He suggested the delays could stretch up to six months.
Lindblad Travel, which specializes in exotic trips to China, Africa, Egypt, the Antarctic and other locales, canceled a tour that was to have left on Saturday, said Kathy Georgette, director of the company’s China Division. Lindblad, based in Westport, Conn., offers a variety of tours including a five-day cruise on the Yngtze River.