"It's a nightmare here this morning," Florence Dougherty, manager of Empress Travel in the District, said yesterday. "They're not only canceling Europe, but also South America.
"I have cancellations to Rio and the Mediterranean cruises, including the Greek Islands; Frankfurt; London. People are frightened."
Dougherty's Wisconsin Avenue office was just one of many Washington area travel agencies feeling the backlash of a spate of recent international events affecting travelers: a terrorist hijacking in Athens, a Frankfurt airport bombing, an exploding suitcase at Tokyo's Narita Airport and the crash off the Irish coast of a jumbo jet that may have been sabotaged.
For Dougherty, it means she'll probably lose a "substantial" amount of summer vacation business. It also means a longer workday than usual. "Tonight, I don't know when I'm going to get home. All the lines are lit up. Everybody's calling, wanting to know what the situation is," she said.
In spite of the recent events, some travelers are going ahead with their European plans, while others are switching to Bermuda or California, agents say. Still other vacationers say they'd like to cancel plans, but worry about losing deposits.
Terri Steinhaus, an attorney in the District, is considering calling off plans to visit Greece in September because her mother is worried about her safety.
Steinhaus has thought about flying into Rome, then taking a ferry to Greece, "although, as I understand it, Rome is not one of the most secure airports in the world," she said. Perhaps she'll go instead to Austria, she said, or Hungary.
In a random survey of metro area travel agents, some firms, including the Falls Church-based Greek Agency for Travel ("We Know Greece As Most People Know Their Own Backyard"), say their vacation business has not been affected.
And the Washington-based American Society of Travel Agents, which represents more than 20,000 agents worldwide, says the industry has been hurt only slightly, according to a spokesman.
But the recent events have brought some interesting questions to travel agents, they say.
One woman called Ober United Travel Agency in Fairfax County to ask whether the firm would pay insurance should she be taken hostage. An Ober agent told her the firm would pay for "trip interruptions." But the woman persisted.
Finally, the exasperated agent said he didn't know. "Did she mean 'Would we cover her if she got shot' or 'would we pay her in captivity' or what?" he asked.
Others have called agencies looking for advice. "They all want us to be fortune tellers," the Ober agent continued. "They'll say, 'I'm not traveling until the middle of July. Is it going to be over by then?' "
Gloria Bohan, owner of the area's 24 Omega World Travel offices, said cancellations so far represent 1 percent of her transactions, and that only three trips to Greece have been called off.
But, Harvey Mikhail, manager of Omega's Maryland stores, said his overall international bookings are down 10 percent from last year. "People don't know if it's safe to travel in Europe or not," he said.
Another local agent, who asked not to be identified, said he feels American planes are terrorist targets, so he's telling customers they're booked, and is instead offering flights on foreign airlines.
Sherry Sicemore, a Pan Am passenger arriving at Dulles International Airport from Frankfurt yesterday, said that the recent bombing at the German airport had scared her.
"When we got there, all the windows had been blown out and had plastic over them," she said.
Her husband agreed that the scene was tense, but said he didn't feel threatened. "I fly quite often," he said, "and it's nothing to be intimidated over."
Frankfurt-bound passenger Aubrey Snelling said he wasn't worried. "In all probability, it won't happen twice in one week," he said of the bombing.