Resurgent US dollar open gates to increased American tourism

The trade winds of tourism that in recent years brought throngs of camera-toting vacationers to the United States now are blowing in reverse. A surge in the value of the US dollar, plus highly competitive airline packages, are spurring more and more Americans to pack their bags for globe-trotting summer holidays.

And the wave of overseas-bound tourists may only be cresting. Some travel industry analysts expect an even larger surge next year.

What's more, many vacationing Americans are not returning to the usual tourist haunts. Despite the lure of the royal wedding in England later this month, London appears to be "out" -- except as a jumping-off point for other European destinations. Spain and Portugal are less of a bargain than they were a year ago. But West Germany and Scandanavia are suddently "in" -- or at least more affordable than in recent years.

Trigger in this latest boom of American wanderlust is the buoyant greenback. Americans abroad are finding their dollars buy more now than any time since the early 1970s. Against the French franc, the Italian lire, and the West German deutsche mark, the dollar has gained more than 30 percent in the last 12 months.

Even with European inflation knocking some of the gleam off the bright new travel dollar, the Continent is still a better buy than it has been in five years, according to Graeme Clark, a marketing director for American Express. "The dollar is definitely being welcomed overseas now," he says. "Prices now are about what they were in the fall of 1979."

In recent weeks the number of passports issued by the US state Department has jumped dramtically, ending a several-day decline.

International traffic at New York's Kennedy Airport, the No. 1 US gateway to Europe, was up 4.5 percent the first three months of this year over the same period last year. For April alone, it was up 9 percent. Boston's Logan International Airport has also experienced large gains. In fact, Logan now has surpassed Chicago's O'Hare Airport as the No. 2 departure point for international travel. In Los Angeles also, one travel agent reports a sudden surge at the departure gates.

But the dollar is not the only reason for the surge in European-bound passengers. Deregulation of the airline industry has boosted the number of inexpensive options available to US tourists, eliminating much of the overnight camping for standby flights that hampered many bargain-hunting vacationers in the past.

Airlines are aggressively promoting overseas package tours, adding new fare options and increasing the number of departure cities for international flights. Says Kennedy Airport spokesman Edward Franceti, "The airlines are clearly eager and able to handle a resurgence of Americans flying abroad."

Pan Am reports an increase in ridership on its flights to Europe, South America, and even to the Orient. Trans world Airlines sees major growth in its transatlantic traffic. Northwest Orient added a Boston-To-London flight May 1 and is attracting "more passengers than anticipated," according to a spokesman for the airline.

London is still the major gateway to Europe. But industry sources report many American tourists are using Eurail passes or flying on the West Germany and Switzerland -- areas sually out of the reach of the budgetminded traveler.

"The interest in Germany is unbelievable now" enthused a representative of the German National Tourist Bureau. A spokesman for the Swedish National Tourist Bureau points with pride to tourist growth rates of 20 and 30 percent for the months of January and February. "Scandinavia is very 'in' this year," he says.

By contrast, the relatively high inflation in Greece and the Iberian Peninsula has somewhat eroded their respective allure for US tourist. And recent strikes by Italian air traffic controllers have cut down the usually heavy tourist flow there.

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