Europe has long been a favored travel destination for American travelers. In spite of the dollar’s downward spiral, Americans continue to flock to Italy, the UK, Germany and a few other favorites. As the dollar passes the $1.56 mark against the euro (remember the days when they were essentially equal?), travel has been only slightly hindered for Americans.
In fact, in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries (OTTI), the number of Americans traveling abroad grew by 1% from 2006 to 2007, increasing for the fourth year in a row. However, the first quarter of 2008 could hint of change as the economy continues to weaken and the euro strengthens. Combined with higher fuel prices, and hence higher airline prices, travel to the Continent is starting to get quite expensive.
OTTI reports a .2% decline for American travelers to Europe in the first quarter of 2008, as compared to the same period last year. Interestingly, however, in a few areas where the dollar remains relatively strong, such as South Africa, Mexico and South America, travel has increased. Americans traveling to Central and South America have increased in numbers by over 6% from last year, Mexico is up more than 8% and visitors to Africa are up a whopping 47.9% over 2007.
Against All Odds
And while many Americans who choose to vacation abroad are still traveling, that trend is likely to drop off especially if the economy continues to limp along. The Air Transport Association has reported that jet fuel prices have increased a head-spinning 70% through July 3 in comparison to 2007.
The New York Times reports that airlines industry analysts expect cuts in flights by nearly 10% for the year. And what about those economic stimulus checks? The Y Partnership, a travel industry PR firm, in cooperation with the Travel Industry Association, found in a recent survey that one in six of those receiving a check would spend it on travel.
So where are Americans choosing to vacation? For luxury travelers, high-end hotels, African safaris and River cruises in Europe are still popular. But for the average traveler who cannot afford the currently expensive euro, destinations such as Central and South America are looking very good. Many, however, are also choosing to stay in the States. Travel + Leisure magazine’s latest issue may be the harbinger of travel trends to come. Typically aimed at an upscale market of travelers, the July 2008 issue is draped in red, white and blue, and the headline reads “50 Fabulous U.S. Travel Ideas.” The editor’s regular column acknowledges the precipitous drop of the dollar against the euro and offers ideas for meaningful travel within the 50 states.
Arthur Frommer, long known for his budget travel guides and magazine Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, presented with his daughter Pauline at the April 2008 Atlanta Travel Expo. Their topic was travel bargains. Among the top picks were China, Vietnam, Kenya and Panama in addition to the American system of National Parks.
Exploring less frequented areas can offer a more authentic view of culture as well as a more favorable cost. Panama, which had an iffy reputation for travelers back in the 1980’s Noriega years, has transformed itself into a country ripe for visitors, with both rainforest jungles and sparkling beaches. (Disclaimer: travelers to foreign countries should always check with the State Department before departing.) The Panama Canal, which was handed over to the Panamanians by the U.S. in 1999, has experienced its busiest year ever in 2007. Furthermore, even though Panama uses the Balboa as currency, U.S. dollars are widely accepted, dispensing with the whole issue of currency exchange. With a beer that can easily cost under $1 and a wide range of tropical activities, Panama is becoming a popular destination.
Africa is becoming popular as an alternative to Europe too. For visitors who stay in a standard tourist hotel, rooms can be had in South Africa for under $50 per night, according to solotravel.org which offers cost guides for a number of countries. This is in sharp contrast to France, where a mid-range hotel will easily run you over $100 per night. Travelers who enjoy going abroad can also find great deals in other areas around the globe – such as a tourist hotel in China for about $30 or less and $20 in Vietnam.