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Millennium vacations fizzle

December 28, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

In 1996, Chambersburg, Pa., travel agent Renee Brink planned group packages for two families wishing to ring in 2000 with extended family members aboard cruise ships in the Caribbean.

Back then, Brink, owner of Uniglobe Chambersburg Travel, says she believed tour operators and cruise companies when they said if you didn't book really early you'd miss the chance to take part in the millennium celebration.

Her agency has booked only one large group, another extended family, for a millennium trip since.

Although the agency has sold a lot of airline tickets for the period, the supposed demand for big, memorable New Year's trips didn't materialize, Brink said.

It's been the same for travel agents around the country, according to a survey of the owners of the 1,200 Carlson Wagonlit Travel agencies nationwide.

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Of them, 88 percent said bookings for New Year's celebrations were similar or lower than last year.

While some Tri-State residents will ring in 2000 in exotic locales like Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, local travel agents say there's been disappointingly little interest in New Year's trips.

They blame price gouging - not Y2K-related fears - for steering people away from millennium vacation packages, which were supposedly going to sell fast even though they cost several times more than the normally high holiday season prices.

"Early on, we had a few inquiries but the rates were too high," said Lynn Vergason, an agent for Preferred Travel & Cruise in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Vergason said she thinks media hype that millennium packages were costing about three times more than normal kept many people from even asking about them.

"People were turned off," she said.

Many hotels and cruise lines that demanded up-front money three and four years ago now find themselves begging for travelers, said Art Richards, owner of Richards World Travel in Hagerstown,

Richards said Y2K computer jitters may have played a role in cancellations earlier this year. Terrorism fears have crept up more recently, he said.

But Richards said he thinks the main reason is that companies got too greedy.

One cruise line, for example, asked for $400 deposits four years ago for New Year's Eve 1999 cruises. Richards said the cruise line took 32,000 deposits for 16,000 slots.

Many people canceled when they heard the final price tag.

"People are balking at that, more than anything," he said. "Now all of a sudden, they want your business We're still getting faxes, today even, saying they still have room."




Staff Writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

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