As a result of the Middle East crisis, many Americans are canceling or postponing travel to the region, including Mediterranean cruises and trips to Egypt, Israel, Turkey and other countries. The impact of the continuing tense situation also is being felt in higher air fares and other travel costs -- caused both by the jump in oil prices and the plunge of the dollar against major foreign currencies.

No one can predict what will happen in the near future, but the travel industry is bracing for tough times ahead as many Americans adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Almost anyone who travels, whether nationally or internationally, can expect to be paying higher prices -- if only to fill the car's gas tank for a weekend getaway.

Safety, of course, is the overwhelming concern of travelers who have booked vacations to countries in or near the Middle East. Naggar Tours of San Francisco, one of the leading organizers of tours to Egypt, Turkey and Morocco, has had about 350 cancellations in the past two weeks, according to spokeswoman Chris Raymond, representing about 10 percent of the firm's clientele for the year.

Part of the problem, Raymond says, is that some Americans have a limited knowledge of Middle Eastern geography. Morocco, located on the North African coast of the Mediterranean Sea opposite Spain, is almost 3,000 air miles from Baghdad and Cairo is about 800 air miles from Baghdad.

"Our cancellations are on the increase," echoes Diane Polonski of American Express Vacations, which offers escorted tours to Egypt, Israel and Turkey. Sun Line Cruises, which has three ships in the Mediterranean, has experienced "a few" cancellations. But more troubling, says spokesman Paul Trott, has been "the lack of new business for this time of year. People start worrying about terrorism. They don't want to travel to that part of the world."

Most tour operators and cruise lines have continued to offer tour programs in Egypt, Israel and Turkey, contending that they are reasonably safe destinations. So far, the State Department has issued no travel advisories warning Americans against travel to these three nations or to popular cruise destinations in the Mediterranean. An exception is an advisory warning of the threat of demonstrations against foreigners in the West Bank and Gaza. "We haven't changed any itineraries," says Julie Benson, a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises, which has port calls scheduled in Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey in September and October. "But of course the situation is being looked at daily. We're not going to take people where we don't perceive it is safe."

At least one tour operator, Universal Travel System of Santa Monica, has had to postpone its regular monthly tour to the Persian Gulf. On Universal's 21-day itinerary are several countries for which the State Department has issued new advisories, warning Americans to defer travel while the Middle East situation remains unstable. These include the Gulf states of Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. "We had them {the tours} sold out," says Klaus Billep, who heads the firm. "But obviously we had to postpone them."

Some of his clients also have canceled tours to Egypt. Typically, they tell him they have always wanted to take a cruise on the Nile River, "but why do it now?"

Tour and cruise operators have adopted varying policies regarding refunds for worried travelers. Sun Line Cruises and Princess Cruises say standard cancellation penalties remain in effect unless the State Department specifically warns against travel to a destination. American Express, on the other hand, says it is offering a full refund on any American Express Vacations packages in the Middle East and Mediterranean if a traveler is fearful.

State Department officials say that terrorist attacks are a continuing threat during the crisis, and airline security has been increased. "Absolutely, we have increased our vigilance," says Pan Am spokeswoman Pamela Hamlon, "but it would not be appropriate to say how."

Several travel State Department travel advisories were in effect in the Middle East before the latest crisis and others have since been issued. Currently, there are advisories for Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

Impact on Costs

The surge in oil prices already has had a big impact on travel costs. Each time the international price of oil increases one penny, says Joan T. Bailey, district director of marketing in Washington for Delta Air Lines, the cost to Delta amounts to $20 million annually. Her figures show the price of oil charged Delta has gone up 28 cents since Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Airlines are passing the extra cost along to passengers in the form of surcharges. On domestic flights, most airlines have increased ticket prices by 5.3 percent as of Sept. 1, according to Bill Jackman of the Air Transport Association of America. International air fares are expected to increase from 5 to 8 percent as of Oct. 1. The month delay in implementing this surcharge is due to the fact that international air fares are still regulated. The international carriers must get approval for any fare increases, including the surcharge, from their governments.

Some cruise lines, but not all, also are adding fuel surcharges. Sun Line Cruises has increased its price for new bookings by $10 a day per person for each day of a cruise itinerary. Princess Cruises, however, says it is waiting to see how the Middle East situation develops before imposing any surcharge.

Higher prices at the nation's gas pumps have prompted the American Automobile Association to issue tips on how to conserve fuel and save money. One way is to drive slower. Driving 60 miles per hour, the association says, uses up 15 percent more gasoline than that used at 50 miles an hour.

The weakening dollar has added to the cost of business and vacation travel abroad, and may deter travelers not already frightened off by security concerns. As of the end of last month, the dollar had dropped as much as 24 percent against major European currencies since May, according to Travel Weekly, a travel industry publication.

If you have booked a cruise or tour to Egypt, Israel or Turkey, should you go? The State Department has issued no advisories saying it is unwise to travel there, but the decision ultimately is up to you.

Billep is continuing to send clients to Egypt, but cautions them to use common sense, saying that while he considers Egypt, Israel and Turkey safe, "guarantees I can't give you. If it bothers you, don't go. Don't be a nervous wreck."


The Kuwait-Iraq crisis is a sad but important reminder that sudden and dramatic events can interrupt practically any trip abroad, endangering the freedom or the lives of travelers. Often there is no way of knowing in advance when danger threatens, but some security precautions can be taken.

The U.S. State Department advises Americans who are traveling to politically unstable countries or to destinations experiencing civil unrest to register their local address with the nearest U.S. embassy or consular office soon after they arrive. Preferably you should register in person, but it is possible to do so by phone. The State Department has set up a standard registry process in all U.S. embassies.

Registration serves a dual purpose. If Americans must be evacuated in a threatening situation, embassy officials will know where they can be contacted. In addition, the embassy can locate you when inquiries come from worried family and friends at home. Knowing you are alive and unharmed is good news, even though you may not be able to leave the country immediately.

Prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the State Department advised Americans in Kuwait to register because of the uncertainty caused by Iraq's assertive stance and the potential for an outbreak of terrorism. "A lot of people did register," says Nyda Novodvorsky of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, "but not all." In some cases, officials have had to rely on relatives to provide the last known address of Americans in Kuwait. But even this is of little help if the address is a post office box number.

If you do get caught in a coup, an invasion or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or an earthquake, contact embassy or consular offices as quickly as you can. The embassy can provide you with information you may need to cope with the emergency, such as when the airport will be open for departures. In addition, the embassy will have a record of you if family and friends are trying to make contact.

Other precautions if you are headed for a politically unstable area:

Prior to a trip, call the State Department's Citizens Emergency Center: It can alert you to any travel advisories that have been issued for the countries you will visit. The advisories describe local problems that threaten the physical safety or health of American travelers. These can be terrorist threats, street disturbances, epidemics and unreasonable searches and unrests. The number in Washington is 647-5225. Travel agencies have access to advisories on computer reservation systems, and many advisories -- but not all -- are published in The Washington Post's international news and travel sections.

Before and during the trip, keep abreast of developments: Query your travel agent, read a newspaper daily, listen to the radio, watch television news broadcasts and keep in touch with U.S. embassy officials. You may want to book a hotel that subscribes to CNN, the 24-hour international cable news network. If trouble is threatening or has erupted, you want to be aware of it. "Don't go off in a fog," says Alberta Espie of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Obtain a copy of "A Safe Trip Abroad": A booklet produced by the State Department, it offers guidelines on protecting yourself against the possibility of terrorism in high-risk areas of the world. It suggests, for example, that you be cautious about discussing personal matters and itinerary with strangers and that you make a mental note of potential safe havens nearby -- such as hotels, police stations and hospitals -- if trouble arises. For a copy: Send $1 to the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.