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Forgotten Countries
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

The dollar is pretty strong in Europe, but you might still be shocked at hotel prices in big cities. There are, however, a couple of places where news events have hurt tourism unfairly. Our Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa, tells us that means less crowds and more bargains.

Consider, for example, Jordan. Civil unrest in neighboring Israel has spelled disaster for the tourist industry in Jordan. The Jordan Tourist Board tells me the number of visitors from North American has dropped nearly 40 per cent so far this year compared to last.

But consider this. Jordan isn't on any State Department warning sheet, and it's a wonderful country to visit. I've been trying to get back to the fabled, ancient, red-rocked city of Petra - one of the great wonders of the world-since I was there nearly 20 years ago. The blue-green water of the Red Sea off Aqaba offers year-round sailing and other water sports. There are religious sites galore, and more being discovered every year. Amman is a cosmopolitan capital with luxury hotels that today stand almost empty.

And that means deals for you. For example, Sunny Land Tours will provide a round-trip flight between New York and Jordan and a week's stay at a three-star inn with breakfast for only $599 per person. You can add on a car for a week with unlimited mileage, and the total will still be under $1,000. (http://www.sunnylandtours.com) By any definition, that's a bargain.

Then there's Israel. I understand the reluctance of many first-time visitors to go to an unfamiliar country where tensions run so high. But I wouldn't hesitate to go - after all, tourists usually don't visit the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Still worried? Then consider Jordan or Egypt. Egypt, too, has suffered due to headlines about Middle East violence. Of course, none of that violence recently has been in Egypt. But just as Americans stopped visiting Paris when Iraq invaded Kuwait, so, too has the entire Middle East suffered because of violence in Israel. I've said it before: Would the tragic bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City have kept you from visiting Tulsa?

Then there are the countries that have been hurt by pictures on the evening news showing the burning of cattle infected with foot and mouth disease. Pity Ireland, where there's been no sign of the disease. But it's suffered almost as much as England, simply because it's right next door. Scotland, too, has seen tourism plummet, even though foot and mouth only turned up along the English border. Here's an indication of how much tourism to the United Kingdom is suffering: I found a web fare for a flight in August between San Diego and London of only $543 round trip the other day.

Turkey has been having economic problems-following devaluation of the lire, inflation has been running at 40 per cent. I just returned from a working vacation in Istanbul and along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, and I can't recommend the country highly enough. The dollar is exceptionally strong - the 20-minute cab ride from the new Istanbul airport to my hotel cost $8 - and the people are warm. If you can return without having bought a carpet, you have more willpower than I.

Bottom line: Bad news sometimes means opportunities. Seize them.

I'm Rudy Maxa, from the Savvy Traveler, for Marketplace.


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