Bookings are set to increase once more with the end of Kosovo war

Bookings are set to increase once more with the end of Kosovo war

European coach holiday operators are forecasting an increase in business over the next 12 months as consumer confidence returns following the end of the war in Kosovo. Operators have noted a downturn in touring business to destinations in southeastern Europe which were considered too close to the Balkans for comfort.

For Cosmos Tourama, the region most badly affected by the war was Italy. But since its end, bookings to Italy have risen by 40%. The Italian Masterpiece, a 15-day tour taking in San Marino, Assisi, Capri, Rome, Orvieto and Sienna has proved particularly popular with bookings increasing more rapidly than for the more traditional tours to Venice, Florence and Rome.

"I think people have decided that now they are going to travel to Europe, they want to do it in style," said Cosmos Tourama product manager Anne Robinson.

According to Robinson, the Kosovo crisis led to much stronger demand for French and Swiss tours, with sales of Grand Tours for both countries up by a third, a trend that has continued since the war ended. "Stable destinations like France and Switzerland are suddenly outselling the rest of the market," she said.

Trafalgar Tours sales director Matthew Lepisto said sales for southeast Europe were slowly picking up. "The Kosovo problems affected bookings - especially in our US, Canada and Australia markets," he said. "Nevertheless, we're having a surprisingly good year."

Cosmos has identified its new Leisurely Touring product introduced for 1999 as a significant growth area over the coming 12 months. Three of the tours operate in Italy and one in Crete.

"Clients fly in and spend the week in one or two resorts, touring the area by coach. They have the benefits of a coach tour without the hassle of getting there," said Robinson.

Meanwhile, operators are drawing up plans for the millennium - Titan HiTours and Gold Crest both have dedicated packages already on sale. Titan offers a 15-day package to Australia called the Sydney 2000 Millennium Celebration, departing on December 28 from Heathrow with Air New Zealand, from £4,575. Clients are based at the Sydney Parkroyal Hotel and take city tours by coach and a trip to Hunter Valley.

Gold Crest has four-day millennium packages in Paris, Bruges and Ghent, all costing £279, and Edinburgh for £379. "The millennium packages will be our dominant feature after the summer," said sales and marketing manager Simon Ayres.

Another major selling tool for coach operators this year is the Oberammergau Passion Play, a religious play staged in the Bavarian village once every 10 years. Operators who have adapted their German tours to include this event are confident of a sell-out. Shearings and Crusader have packaged a separate tour, with clients staying one or two nights in the village. Leger Holidays has produced an eight-page brochure also covering the Passion Play. This will be with agents in August.


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