LONDON -- When you can fly into London with a good chance of getting a ticket for that night's performance of "Phantom of the Opera," something unusual is happening.
Technically, the show is sold out until September. But on Jan. 25, a Friday night, two hours before the curtain went up there still were 10 seats available.
Suddenly, the lines outside Her Majesty's Theater in Haymarket for the few daily return tickets have shrunk.
The word from the ticket office these days is: "At the moment there are fewer people queuing. If you come at 10 a.m. when the box office opens, you have a good chance of getting a ticket."
On that Friday, there also were tickets available for Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest hit musical, "Aspects of Love," and the long-running "Les Miserables."
The reason: Tourists, frightened by the gulf war and the threat of terrorism, have canceled trips by the thousand, forcing agencies to return their block bookings.
"February and March are a complete washout," Sarah Dale of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association acknowledged. "People are adopting a wait-and-see attitude."
It is worse than the drop in tourism in 1986 after the U.S. bombing of Libya, she said, adding: "This is affecting not only Americans but the Japanese and Europeans as well. People have overreacted; the American market has been almost completely wiped out."
It is not just ordinary tourists who are backing out of trans-Atlantic travel. Many multinational companies have banned or severely restricted business trips. This has led to a boom in video-conferencing calls: businessmen holding long-distance meetings via the video screen.
Several American celebrities, including singer Dionne Warwick and movie stars Sylvester Stallone, Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, have canceled trips to Europe. Even the haute couture shows in Paris last week failed to lure American buyers and fashion editors.
Figures released by the British Airports Authority confirm that the gulf war has had a drastic effect on travel.
They show that the number of passengers coming into Britain's airports fell by 20 percent in the first four days after the war started. Traffic at Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, is down 21 percent compared to last year.
British Airways says its passenger traffic has fallen by about 10 percent. Scandinavian airline SAS may be forced to make cutbacks because of a 15 percent fall in revenue. Air France and Dutch airline KLM also report a downturn.