Demand Building for Olympics

Commissionable tours still available from sanctioned operators

By: Allen Salkin

One of the two American tour companies sanctioned to offer official packages to the Athens Olympic Games said it expects to sell 3,000 tours both through travel agents and directly by the start of the Games in August.

While this would be a slight decrease from the 4,000 people Cartan Tours sent to the 2000 Sydney Games, the company is gearing up now for a buildup of interest by American travelers as the lighting of the flame approaches.

The Athens 2004 organizing committee has brought nearly every hotel in Athens into an official reservations system, bookable only through sanctioned agents. There will also be cruise ships anchored in the port of Piraeus, housing thousands more visitors, and private homes for rent.

CoSport’s least expensive package includes four nights in the modest Hotel Achilles and four event tickets. Not including air, it costs about $4,000 per person. (CoSport quotes prices in Euro.) Tours are commissionable. CoSport only offers tickets in conjunction with packages.

Cartan’s least expensive package, a six-night, air-inclusive program that sold for $4,989 per person, is now sold out. But the company has added a three-night stay option, meals included, on the Olympia Explorer cruise ship that will likely be docked in Athens (see sidebar). Adding this to any longer itinerary costs $2,869 per person. Cartan, which is authorized to sell individual tickets to any American, pays commission on everything except event tickets.

A just-announced product allows clients to arrive in Athens for the Olympics the retro-super-stylish way. The Queen Mary 2 is one of the ships being docked in Athens during the Games. Cartan is offering a 14-day Jewels of the Mediterranean package which starts Aug. 2 and includes 11 days of sailing on the QM2 from Southampton, England, to Greece, with stops in Spain, Gibraltar, Florence and Rome, and three days accommodation in Athens on the Olympia Explorer for the beginning of the Olympics. The trip starts at $6,851 per person, not including event tickets.

The biggest problem travelwise at these Olympics is that residents of the city with houses to rent are trying to price gouge, turning off many would-be visitors.

“The owners are giving prices like they think they are going to become millionaires,” said Stavros Douvis, owner of New York-based Anemos Tours, which is selling commissionable packages that include accommodation in private homes. “By July, I expect there will be many leftovers and they will be calling me.”

He said he has been flooded with requests for Olympics travel information from clients, but that sales are slow.

“People are looking for bargains,” he said.

Royal Olympic

One potential nightmare for the Games is the cancellation of thousands of reservations for stays on two cruise ships in Athens.

The ship-owning arm of Royal Olympic cruises has been in bankruptcy proceedings and on Jan. 16 announced it has agreed to sell the Olympia Explorer and Olympia Voyager to satisfy creditors.

Royal Olympic spokesman Mike Hanson told TravelAge West, “If the bank or anyone else takes possession of the vessels, Royal Olympic will discuss how to meet the commitments going forward, but especially the Olympic Games.”

He stressed however, that until the ships are sold, nothing is certain.

“I would be really surprised if those ships weren’t involved (in the Olympics), but I can’t be sure until it goes through that process.