COPENHAGEN (Dow Jones)--Denmark's largest charter travel agencies Friday reported a sharp drop in reservations to Muslim countries, particularly Egypt, as anti-Danish sentiment spreads in the region.
However, Nordic airlines including SAS AB (SAS.SK) and Sterling so far report no impact but said bookings could be hurt in the months ahead.
Star Tours, MyTravel Group PLC (MT.S.LN) and Apollo, the Danish unit of Swiss-based Kuoni Reisen Holding AG (KUNN.EB), and Atlantis Rejser said new reservations by Danes for travel in coming months are down 15% to 50% and those who have made tentative reservations are canceling.
"The telephones are always silent these days and those who do call either want comfort...or to cancel," said Ulla Jepsen, co-owner of Atlantis Rejser. She has instructed her Danish employees in Egypt to deny they are Danish if asked.
In demonstrations around the region, Muslims have burned the Danish flag and photographs of the country's prime minister and chanted anti-Danish slogans. They are also boycotting Danish goods, to protest the publication of 12 cartoon drawings of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.
The reaction has sparked concern among Danes who are swamping travel agencies with calls about travel conditions, restrictions and cancellations.
Danes in recent years have swapped traditional beach-house vacations at home for trips abroad, and Egypt has emerged as one of their most popular winter destinations.
"We're getting 50 cancellations a day," said Jan Lockhart, managing director of Apollo. Travelers to Egypt constitute about 23% of the company's business, and pay between 4,000 kroner ($1=DKK6.2201) and DKK5,000 a trip, he said. The cancellations began in earnest Monday, he reported.
MyTravel has seen spring and summer bookings to Egypt drop to less than half the normal levels over the past week, said Jan Vendelbo, head of sales and marketing at the agency.
"It's not good, it's a good market for us," said Vendelbo. "About 100 this week have changed their booking to another destination, like Greece or Spain. Everybody is waiting to see what happens."
Most customers who have fully paid for their trips and are booked to go in the weeks ahead are choosing to travel, because they cannot get a refund, agencies said.
Jepsen said 95% of Atlantis Rejser's trips are to Egypt, making it Scandinavia's largest tour operator to the country. "People are very nervous," she added. "They're wanting to cancel their trips."
However, customers can claim a refund from travel agencies only if the Danish government warns against travel to a particular destination or if a doctor says they are unfit to travel. However, Jepson reported "Some are going to the doctors and getting notes saying they can't travel."
So far, around 20 customers have presented nonspecific doctors' notes stating they were unfit to travel. Typically, doctors specify why a patient cannot travel, for example, if they have a broken arm, Jepson said.
"This situation is getting a bit out of control," said Lockhart, noting the destination countries will suffer. "We have the opportunity to move the business to other parts of the world."
Tourism has been one of Middle Eastern region's fastest-growing industries, and Danes regard Egypt as one of the region's safer destinations, the agencies said.
Organizers of The Middle East Travel & Tourism Summit 2006, taking place in Jordan later this month, were unfazed by the possible bad timing of the conference. "Everything is proceeding as planned," said spokesman Michael Thomas.
In the longer term, "It's too early to say that a specific threat against Danes - which we've never had before - will depress the market," said Lars Thykier, administrative director of Danmarks Rejsebureau Forening, the country's travel agencies association.
Thyier noted, however, countries wishing to preserve their travel industry will have to ensure safety, not just for Danes but for all tourists.
"Who's going to be able to tell a Dane from a Swede? A Dane from a German? A Dane from a Norwegian?" he said.
Sterling, one of the Nordic region's discount airlines with flights to Cairo, hasn't yet been affected by a slowdown in reservations, said Niels Brix, vice president of communications. Bookings through March are at normal levels, and the company hasn't yet received any cancellation from a travel agency, he said.
Jens Langergaard, head of press relations for SAS Denmark, said the airline hadn't experienced a decrease in bookings yet. However, he added, "If this goes on for a long time, of course, there is a risk that businessmen won't have the need to fly to those areas."
On stock markets, Kuoni closed flat at CHF585, while MyTravel fell 0.9% to 240 pence. However Germn operator TUI, rose 0.4% to EUR17.47 and SAS gained 2.4% to SEK105.
-By Frances Schwartzkopff, Dow Jones Newswires; +45 33 11 15 24; firstname.lastname@example.org
(Terence Roth and Malin Rising contributed to this report.)
(END) Dow Jones Newswires