Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



June 1, 1986 -- To travel or not to travel? That is the question that won’t go away, particularly when the conversation turns to discretionary travel to Europe and the Mediterranean.

Last month I reviewed the U.S. press in its traditional role as whipping-boy for the decision by many thousands of Americans to avoid the hot spots this summer on the other side of the North Atlantic. (The press is obviously making it all up: fear of terrorism, hang-ups about security, and a wishy-washy dollar which drives up costs.)

Whether the negative prognosis holds up or the picture improves is not the issue. The issue is whether to make the trip. A thorny corollary question is the posture that the travel industry (including the travel press) should take. Should travel writers counsel people to travel within the framework of the existing risks; should they counsel caution, or advise potential tourists to make their own choices?

Last month I wrote that the press has an obligation to report what’s going on, no matter whose wallet is punctured, and that the consumer must make the ultimate decision. As nice as it would be, you can’t divorce travel from the real world—witness what’s been happening to innocent travelers. There’s no absolute sanctuary.

Now along comes a long-time travel industry colleague, Ron Kurtz, the president of Sea Goddess Cruises, with some suggested guidelines to ease the dilemma.

Writing from his office in Miami, he first takes a familiar path: "The prospects for European tourism this year have been dealt a severe blow by the trade and consumer media coverage of the terrorist incidents. The very low probability of experiencing a problem has been overshadowed by the publicly given to the results.

"I do not wish to minimize the tragedy of these incidents nor to suggest that their implications should not be a cause for concern and caution. However, I do believe that the media has given undue emphasis to these incidents and has failed to present a balanced picture. People are being frightened away from Europe without a proper understanding of the facts. As a result, they are making an emotional and uninformed decision.

"At the same time, travel agents have effectively been discouraged from even discussing Europe with their clients because of possible legal implications. In addition, travel agents are not being provided the facts that would enable them to present a balanced picture to their clients."

Kurtz stresses that he’s not proposing any "hard sell" to promote Europe, not to suggest "business as usual." Rather, that "information on travel ideas to overcome the concerns should be suggested," by the media and travel agents. He offers the following four suggestions:

1. Most incidents involved intra-European flights (not flights between the U.S. and Europe). IN particular, the flights have been between the Mideast and Rome or Athens. Flights between the U.S. and Europe and the airports of many European cities have not generally been affected.

2. For travelers who wish to avoid certain European airports, there are other modes of travel within Europe. The various options include: driving by car through Europe or staying in one city and then taking daily excursions into the nearby region; touring by motorcoach; river cruises. Perhaps most importantly, Europe’s train system should be emphasized.

Trains in Europe are modern, fast, clean, and on time. They travel through very scenic country and afford the opportunity for interesting stopovers. Because distances between the cities in Europe are often not that great, the time required to travel by train (the stations are certainly located) is competitive with the total elapsed time to fly (when one adds drive time to/from remote airports and waiting time for flights and baggage).

3. The probability of experiencing a problem in Europe is far less than that of being seriously injured in an auto accident at home. In fact, airport security in Europe now appears to be far better than that in the U.S.

4. In 1985, over 6 million Americans went to Europe, making it our top intercontinental destination area. It is still likely that only a slightly lower number will travel to Europe in 1986, despite contrary suggestions by the news media.

Kurtz concludes that the decision to travel to Europe is a personal one. "What is right or comfortable for one individual may not be appropriate for another. However, information such as that presented above should help people make an informed decision regarding their travel plans."

How to respond to these reasoned and reasonable arguments is up to you. Al the well-intentioned advice and guidance in the world won’t change the recognition that the responsibility of whether to travel or not to travel is yours.

Me? I’m just trying to give a balanced picture.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.