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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Travel experts deny 'vulture tourism'
Boeing 747
Transatlantic flights are flying almost half-empty
By BBC News Online's Finlo Rohrer

Cashing in on a disaster is one of the worst accusations that can be levelled at a business.

Tales of exploitation provoke disgust, whether it is black marketeers profiting in a war-torn developing nation or souvenir sellers trading on the death of thousands.

But UK travel experts are denying anecdotal reports that cynical consumers are seeking to take advantage of the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.

You can't really bargain with a tour operator

Sean Tipton
Dubbed "vulture tourists" by one newspaper, there are suggestions that wily customers are demanding severe discounts from the hardest-hit airlines and hotels, changing their travel plans accordingly.

The New York atrocities have precipitated a global crisis for airlines with thousands of jobs already cut and half-empty airliners crossing the Atlantic.

Tour operators selling package trips to many destinations have also been hit.

But Sean Tipton, spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), said "vulture tourists" would get short shrift from its members.

Perennially tough

"I can't speak for hoteliers but if somebody walked into a travel agent and said 'Look, clearly business is going badly, this is what I'm going to pay', they would be asked to leave the shop."

"You can't really bargain with a tour operator."

Mr Tipton maintained that travel agents were not reporting any more discounting than was usual for the end of September, a perennially tough time for the holiday industry.

There is no large scale movement of people saying they are going to get a bargain out of this

Neal Baldwin
Travel Weekly
"We haven't an unusual burst of discounts. There are cheap holidays - there always are at this time of year.

"It could be different for hoteliers in America where the market is going badly."

But Mr Tipton said it was unfair to stigmatise customers looking for a good deal.

"'Vulture tourism' is bit extreme. I'm sure they would be pleased to have somebody book into the hotel. It is a bit harsh as a term."

Neal Baldwin, deputy editor of Travel Weekly, admitted tourists could target discounts created by the atrocities' aftermath.

Cheap holidays

"I'm sure people do that sort of thing. You don't have to look very hard if you want to go on a package to get a bargain. Prices are extremely low.

"A lot of operators have found themselves with stock they can't get rid of."

But Mr Baldwin denied there were any serious numbers flocking to cheap holidays generated by the crisis.

"There are probably some people who are savvy enough to realise they can get away with it but you only have to look at the bargains about to see there the demand isn't there.

"There is no large scale movement of people saying they are going to get a bargain out of this."

Transatlantic load

The major airlines such as BA, Virgin, United and American Airlines insist they have no knowledge of "vulture tourism".

Continental Airlines told BBC News Online that transatlantic load, the proportion of capacity used, is 60% as opposed to 84% last year.

Dr Don Slater, a reader in sociology at the London School of Economics and a writer on consumer culture, said seeking cheap air fares was innocuous compared to more ghoulish rumours.

Dr Slater, who was born in New York, said: "There have been all kinds of reports about all kinds of opportunism - auctioning rubble on ebay from the World Trade Center.

"[There are] people who are attracted to these kind of scenes of devastation [and] voyeuristic interest. You sometimes find that after disasters or major events like 1989 in Europe - people want to be there."

Dr Slater said his partner had decided to fly out to a conference in the US this week as a "gesture of ethical obligation" as the battle continues to return to normal life.

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