Coup's end spurs travel to U.S.S.R.

September 01, 1991|By New York Times News Service n

While large numbers of Americans have expressed interest in visiting the Soviet Union since the failure of the Aug. 19 coup, tour operators say the volume of visitors is not likely to match that in Berlin in 1989 following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

According to representatives of 10 companies offering tours to the Soviet Union, a string of cancellations because of the coup was followed quickly by a small flurry of inquiries and bookings when it became clear the coup had collapsed.

The State Department, which warned against travel to the Soviet Union Aug. 19, downgraded its advisory to a caution the day after the coup failed.

"All the people who weren't going are calling back saying they want to go now," said Don Streicher, whose Chicago-based Unitours booked 11 new slots for fall tours two days after the coup failed -- a significant number, given the time of year and a lethargic travel market.

Representatives of General Tours and the Russian Travel Bureau, two of the largest companies specializing in tours to the Soviet Union, said the wave of interest comes after a slow summer. Tourism to the Soviet Union was half what it was in 1989, when Intourist reported 17,000 to 18,000 American visitors a month.

Although it's impossible to predict how strong the fall will be, operators say they are encouraged by the strong interest since Aug. 21, when it became clear the coup was collapsing.

"When I ask these people, 'Why now?' the answer is "Suddenly, I understand the Russians,' " said E. Wallace Lawrence III, chairman of the Russian Travel Bureau, noting that his company "has been through Chernobyl, the 1980 Olympics, the downing of the Korean airliner -- all the ups and downs of Soviet travel. But this is the first time there has been such an emotional outpouring of interest."

For those interested in going to the Soviet Union here are two options:

* General Tours, 770 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10003; telephone (212) 598-1800 or (800) 221-2216. It is offering a reasonably priced eight-day tour of Leningrad and Moscow starting in November. Departures are frequent. Prices start at $799, including round-trip air fare from New York.

* Russia Travel Bureau, 225 E. 44th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; telephone (212) 986-1500 or (800) 847-1800. It has a 15-day "Peter the Great's Grandeur of Russia" tour, which includes stops in Leningrad, Moscow, Kuskovo and Vladimir and a cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm. Numerous departures, including Sept. 28 and Oct. 12. Prices start at $3,547 round trip from New York or Los Angeles.

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