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Travel industry rebounding as war ends

By Justin Reedy

With travelers' fears starting to disappear as the war in Iraq nears an end, domestic and international travel will start to rebound, industry officials say.

Many travelers shied away from international travel during the war because of volatile situations abroad, while others even cancelled domestic airline travel because of fears of terrorist attacks provoked by the war. Rising gas prices before the war and during the conflict's opening days also discouraged auto travel across the United States.

But with gas prices back down and the war headed for a positive resolution, airline and automobile travel is starting to rebound, industry officials say.

Local travel agents have already started to see an increase in the number of people booking international and long-distance flights.

"It definitely has increased since the war has been over," said Lisa Weaver, the division manager of AAA Travel Agency in Jonesboro. "People are starting again to look at international flights or other far-away destinations. They're booking cross-country flights, or flights to Hawaii."

Though airlines in the U.S. saw a decrease in bookings during the war with Iraq, most of that decline has been in international travel, causing some airlines to cancel flights to certain cities because of a lack of demand. But Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines announced recently that it would restore some of those flights in anticipation of rising demand due to the war coming to an end.

Delta's flights from New York to Athens, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Madrid, Rome and Venice will resume June 1, as will flights from Atlanta to Madrid, Frankfurt and London-Gatwick.

"With the decrease of military action in Iraq, we're anticipating that passenger demand will begin to return," said Subodh Karnik, Delta's senior vice president in charge of Network and Revenue Management.

Auto travel is also expected to pre-war levels as gas prices have started to drop, according to AAA Auto Club South. Metro Atlanta's average price for regular unleaded gasoline is now about $1.37 per gallon, according to a gas price survey by AAA. That's nearly 20 cents per gallon lower than a month ago.

"The large drop in gasoline prices seen since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom is welcome news for consumers and the travel industry," said Kevin Bakewell, a spokesman for AAA Auto Club South.

That drop in gas prices, in addition to an end to most of the fighting in Iraq, will cause more interest in consumers for auto travel and vacations here in the United States, Bakewell said.