According to the monthly report by Donald N. Martin & Co., analysts on American travel to Europe, the stronger dollar and lower fuel prices should help limit the decline in travel. Overall trans-Atlantic traffic continued to drop in January, with leading carriers reporting an average decline of 4.2 percent compared to January 2008. Capacity was down an average 1.2 percent, putting the average load factor at 72.8. U.S. travel to Europe was down 10.7 percent in November, according to the latest figures from the Department of Commerce, for the second month of double-digit decline. According to the Martin report, "We continue to estimate that, for all of 2008, U.S. traffic to Europe totaled about 7 percent less than in 2007. Some individual countries are reporting steeper declines, including Britain (down 16 percent), which barely retained its title as the No. 1 overseas destination for Americans. Looking ahead, we project continued declines of 10 percent or more through the winter and into the spring."
The dollar has hovered between 0.77 and 0.78 euros for several weeks, well over its late December dip to 0.69 euros. The dollar also stepped up to £0.70, or more than 35 percent over its summer low versus the pound. France virtually tied Britain as the No. 1 destination for U.S. travelers in 2008. Britain has been the leader, by a wide margin, for most of the past 60 years. France gained by losing slightly less. Britain reported a 16 percent drop to 2.98 million U.S. visits in 2008, according to a preliminary figure from the Office of National Statistics. Maison de la France is estimating its total at 2.95 million U.S. visits, which would be a 14 percent decline. Of the remaining top four destinations, Germany reported that U.S. visits were down only 4.3 percent through November. Italy has not yet reported a U.S. traffic estimate for 2008. Overall, Britain is down only 2 percent from all overseas markets, thanks to much better performances in other regions. In the U.S. market, the dollar's weakness versus the pound (since reversed) was a major obstacle through the summer.
Worldwide, international travel will decline as much as 2 percent this year, the UN World Tourism Organization said. That would follow a 2 percent increase in 2008 to 924 million, and an average annual increase of 7 percent for the 2004-07 period. Europe and the Americas will suffer the sharpest declines, the UNWTO said, as the worldwide recession has hit these regions hardest so far.
Europe accounted for 52.9 percent of world arrivals in 2008 (compared to 57.5 percent in 2000). But this share is skewed upward because Europe has so many nations in close proximity. The UNTWO counts each foreign arrival in each nation. Thus Belgians are counted each time they cross the border to France or the Netherlands; and travelers visiting five European countries are counted five times. Residents of regions with relatively few and relatively large countries cross international borders much less frequently. The Americas, North and South, account for only 16 percent of all international travel by the UNTWO measure.
Demand for new passports and renewals have fallen sharply, according to the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Last year, 15.7 million new and renewed passports were issued. For this fiscal year, the initial projection was for 17 million passports (largely because of the new documentation required as of June 1 for Americans returning by land from Mexico and Canada). In addition, the Passport Agency projected 1.6 million more applications for the new passport card (less expensive, but no good for air travel). But applications have slowed, and the revised projection for FY2009, which ends Sept. 30, is that 11.2 million passports will be issued. That would still bring the passport-holding population to well over 92 million, or more than 33 percent of total resident U.S. citizens.
Tourism Ireland, according to the report, will spend $10 million to maintain the Emerald Isle's share of U.S. travel to Europe, driving for at least 750,000 visits in 2009, and generating $1 billion in revenue. Newspapers, magazines, national cable TV and radio will be used to deliver the "Island of Unique Character, and Characters" message to baby boomers and past visitors to Europe in eight metro areas with non-stop service to Dublin or Shannon. Internet promotion will account for 28 percent of the spend. Affordability and good deals are basic to the offer, said Chief Executive Paul O'Toole and Joe Byrne, executive vice president, North America, in their Jan. 21 presentation.
VisitBritain will launch a "value campaign" this year, spending £6.5 million at home and in overseas markets, to highlight Britain's new affordability, the great deals available and free entry to many museums and galleries. VisitBritain Chairman Christopher Rodrigues said, "Despite current economic woes, tourism is one of the few industries that could show growth with a real opportunity to grow to a £133 billion industry by 2018." VisitBritain is laboring under an 18 percent government budget reduction and widespread staff cutbacks. For more information, visit www.DNMartinco.com.
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