Sales Of The Century


Would-be vacationers face a dilemma: just when they really need a relaxing getaway, traveling has become more stressful than staying home. Some worry about safety. Others are more concerned about splurging on a vacation during uncertain economic times. Though traffic is down everywhere (the International Air Transport Association reports a 17 percent drop), it's the skittish Americans who are most hesitant (flights are down 30 percent). But what's bad for the industry is a boon for the intrepid tourist. A guide to some of the deals:

EUROPE: You know things are bleak when Europeans actually miss American tourists. Travel to France, for example, has dropped by 20 percent since September 11, mainly because only half as many Americans are going. To lure new business, some European hotels are literally giving away rooms. Scotland's four-star Craigellachie Hotel, on the banks of the River Spey in the north, is offering free lodging for guests who eat breakfast and dinner at the hotel. That's not a sacrifice, considering the two meals cost about £40 per person and the Craigellachie is acclaimed for its cuisine and vast collection of more than 400 malt whiskies.

If your wardrobe needs work, the New York-based Shop Around Tours offers an extravaganza that takes shoppers to every major outlet mall in Italy, including the famed Prada and Gucci outlets near Florence. It costs $800 per person, not including air fare, for six nights' accommodation in four-star hotels in Milan, Florence and Rome, plus about half the meals.

For those looking ahead to winter, European ski resorts are also offering discounts. Ryanair has £20 air fares from London to European skiing destinations when flights are booked before Nov. 12. Travelers can fly for less than the price of a ski pass to Perpignan, Carcassonne, Trieste, St. Etienne, Salzburg or Turin any time before March 21, 2002. The Esprit group has big savings at some of its less crowded French and Austrian resorts; Puy St. Vincent will let two kids stay for free with two adults paying £499 each.

MOROCCO AND THE MEDITERRANEAN: Travel agents in the Middle East say tourism has never been worse. "We had more than 52 groups booked," says Nir Shilo, a guide who specializes in tailor-made trips throughout Israel. "They all canceled." Those who buck the trend are in for bargains. For $450, not including air fare, Ann Hillel, a manager with the Jerusalem-based agency Travex, is offering an all-inclusive one-week tour, with a historic walk up Mount Masada; a daylong jeep drive in the Negev Desert; a stop in the rose- colored-stone city of Petra, Jordan; and a choice of swimming with dolphins in Eilat, snorkeling or scuba diving. Last year, she says, the trip would have cost twice as much.

To help weather a 50 percent drop in bookings, Club Mediterranee has discounted vacations at its North African resorts. For travelers who book a weeklong package at its Moroccan clubs at Agadir or Marrakesh, air fare will cost 1 euro round trip. The Club Med spa on Jerba, an island off Tunisia, is offering a daylong "Forme Tonique" treatment, including algae wraps and various hydrotherapies, for 1 euro when another is purchased at the full price of 437 euro.

NEW YORK: The tourism scene in the Big Apple is almost as bleak, though it's beginning to bounce back. In mid-September hotel occupancy hit a low of 45 percent, less than half the normal rate. Today it's close to 80 percent and climbing. To ensure that tourists continue to flock back to the Big Apple, the city late last week unveiled its "New York City Freedom Packages," which combine hotel stays, tickets to Broadway shows and restaurant discounts. A four-night stay for two at the Hilton New York in midtown, two tickets to the musical "Chicago," four $50 dinner certificates (two per person), plus a donation to the Twin Towers Fund, costs $464 per person, including all taxes.

Individual hotels have also slashed prices since September 11, though rates are beginning to climb back. The stately Lucerne hotel on the Upper West Side has priced standard rooms at $150 per night, down from $305 last year. Ian Schrager's Hudson hotel in midtown is charging $195 for a standard double, down from $255.

For those in the mood to splurge, British Airways resumes regular Concorde flights from London to New York this week for $4,999 round trip--a saving of 60 percent. Regular flights from Tokyo to New York are the cheapest they've been in years; the online service CAS Tour offers a round-trip flight for $328--less than the cost of a trip from Tokyo to Los Angeles or even Hong Kong.

THE CARIBBEAN: Basking in the sand and sun is almost cheaper than staying home. An all-inclusive four-night cruise with Royal Caribbean from Miami to the Bahamas booked through is $149 per person--a saving of more than 50 percent over last year's rates. A seven-night Grand Princess cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to the Western Caribbean is $499 per person. Caribtours is offering a 14-night stay at Jamaica's Round Hill hotel, a former pineapple, allspice and coconut plantation near Montego Bay, through mid-December for £1,134 per person, including air fare from London--a saving of £595. Sandals Resorts says this is the first time it has ever discounted its holidays. It's offering £504 off a 14-night stay at the all-inclusive Ocho Rios resort in Jamaica, now £1,699 per person, including air fare.

JAPAN: Thanks to lingering economic troubles, great hotel deals there are nothing new. Post-September 11 specials for travel around the country include Nippon Travel Agency Co.'s "Sapporo White Illumination" package for $165. The deal includes round-trip air fare from Tokyo, a stay at one of the city's nicest hotels (such as the Sapporo Prince or the Sapporo Grand), an all-you-can-eat sushi-and-barbecue dinner, a ticket to the TV Tower and a free soft drink in the tower's lounge, where visitors can enjoy Sapporo's nighttime view of the illuminated Odori Park. A top vacation choice for Japanese who've decided not to travel abroad is Osaka's new Universal Studios Japan. What better place to forget the troubles of the real world?

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