Travelers shouldn't let stories about the decline of the U.S. dollar confuse them about travel costs to the rest of the world,travel experts say.
According to a June 2003 report of the World Tourism Organization,such foreign currencies as the euro,the Canadian dollar,the Australian dollar,the New Zealand dollar and the Japanese yen are far more expensive than they used to be.
Two years ago,the dollar and the euro had nearly equal values. Now,it takes about $1.20 to buy one euro.
But American tourists can still travel to places where the U.S. dollar goes much further than it does at home. It's a matter of knowing where the cheapest spots are.
“Overall,I don't think that's affecting Americans' willingness to travel,” said Edward Hasprouck, who describes himself as the travel guru at Airtreks.com. He is the author of books about travel and online travel marketplaces.
He said that the current situation is prompting Americans to become interested in a wide range of places,“all looking beyond Europe.”
Hasprouck said that most of the world remains substantially cheaper than typical U.S. and European destinations. Because Latin American,Asian and African currencies are closely tied to the dollar,they remain good places to visit.
The U.S. dollar is “weak relative to the euro,” Hasprouck said,“but it's not true relative to the Argentine peso. A country more expensive,even for Americans,many years ago,now is one of the bargains in the world.”
New Zealand and Australia have become popular because of their scenery.
“These are destinations removed from people's concern of terrorism and security issues,” Hasprouck said.
Airtreks.com surveyed its staff of resident experts in December to find out where they recommend traveling,based on costs and the quality of average accommodations,among other things.
Argentina,Chile,Brazil and the whole South Pacific were consensus votes as attractive destinations with particularly good value because of good services,diverse geography,scenery and different cultures.
Overall,Hasprouck said,travel values have never been better,“but they probably won't continue indefinitely.”
For those “travelers who are opportunistic,they should always be looking where the currency has crashed. An economic crisis means a great value for foreigners,” he said.
Although Europe is going to be more expensive than two years ago,bookings remain about the same,according to a report by the British Incoming Tour Operators Association. The group's data show that visitor arrivals for January 2004 were 1.3 percent higher than in the same month last year.
Stephen Dowd,the association's chief executive,agreed that the weakness of the dollar has not slowed the increase in the number of North Americans visiting Britain in recent months.
The price of a British pound has risen about 14 percent in the last year,which Dowd called “a big percentage change,but not significant enough to make people change their plans.” Although Britain is a member of the of the European Union,it does not use the euro.
He pointed out that air fares remain competitive,and many tour operators locked in rates through spring.
Dowd said that Britain is seen as a safe destination due to the country's long experience dealing with terrorism.
Travelers must also decide whether to book everything in advance or to look for bargains once they arrive at their destination.
“There is a tradeoff,” Hasprouck said. “What you get by booking in advance is the security in advance that you will be in a particular value and property … but most people get better values … when they get there.”
But Ester Herz,executive director of Holiday Tours & Cruises,a travel agency specializing in South America,said that the best way to avoid currency rate changes is to lock in prices by buying travel packages or cruises at home.
Tourists win if the dollar goes up,but feel victimized if the dollar falls and they see lower prices when they arrive. Nonetheless,Herz argued that advance booking is a better way to manage a travel budget than to do everything independently after arriving in a country.
“The ‘all inclusive' offers are the better and smarter way to travel right now,now that the euro is much stronger,” said Herz.
“As long as some people keep arranging their trips without a travel agent,booking online and buying those wonderful offers with their so-called low prices … is a big mistake,because when they come back,they see that they have to pay 30 to 40 percent more than they expected,” Herz said.