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Although a number of travel agents are seeing cancellations and concern from clients scheduled to sail in the Ukraine, Russia and beyond, the cruise lines have not yet issued changes in itineraries for this year. Agents expressed frustration on behalf of clients booked on cruises this spring specifically for ports such as Yalta.
One such agent is Leslie Fambrini, owner of Personalized Travel Consultants in Los Altos, Calif. Fambrini is also named on Conde Nast Traveler’s list of top consultant.
“I have clients who are booked to cruise the region in early May,” she said. “They chose the cruise particularly for the history and culture of this area. They are well traveled and sophisticated and not running scared, but we need to know what the cruise line is doing.”
Fambrini said her clients are perfectly willing to change their plans, but not willing to be forced to sail an itinerary they don’t want.
“It’s not like the Mediterranean, where you can just swap one port for another and you have so much to choose from,” she stated. “And what I’m still getting is that the cruise line is monitoring the situation and the cancellation policy is still in place. Just a little more than a month before travel, this is not really acceptable.”
The Department of State has warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine. Their site urges all U.S. citizens considering travel to Ukraine to “evaluate their personal security situation in light of political instability and the possibility of violence.”
More than a dozen major cruise lines are scheduled for calls in the Ukraine at some point this year. Cruises in the area, both river and seagoing, generally start in May; but some lines are not scheduled for calls in the area until fall. Although no companies have announced changes to their itineraries in the region as yet, some agents report consumer reaction going well beyond the Ukraine.
“It was shaping up to be a great season, but I do believe the Black Sea will fall apart this year,” said another top cruise agent, Tom Baker, co-owner of the Houston-based CruiseCenter.
So far, he has had Black Sea cancellations on Windstar and one land tour visit to Turkey, but he says even those going to the Baltic are nervous and calling to ask what is going to happen.
“It is not encouraging for Europe. Unease and uncertainty are strong for the region,” Baker said. “I had two ladies going to book a Baltic cruise on Holland America Line’s Eurodam and they have put all plans on hold. And I’ve wasted hours asking folks to hang on to their Baltic bookings. It’s like selling all over again.”
Some agents, such as Beth Levich, owner of Cruise Holidays of Portland, Ore., are seeing no concerns from clients, but she has people booked on cruises much later in the year.
Agents expressed doubt about what the cruise lines are waiting for. One agent, who preferred not to be identified, said, “If they are waiting for the referendum, why? The people aren’t being given any real choice and it isn’t going to improve anything.”