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By PAUL MOTTER
We just returned from a river cruise in France, and sure enough, European tourism is already off to running start; even more so than pre-2001 when security was less an issue and the Dollar was still mightier than the Euro.
There are tourists everywhere, and major cities like Paris are very crowded already. Remember, not only Americans are returning, but relaxed travel rules in the European Union along with a very strong Euro means that more Europeans are traveling as well. Our number one concern for Europe this year is the air travel. We met cruisers on our boat who were bumped from oversold flights, and it was still only the end of March! If you already have a reservation good for you, but be sure to reserve your seats at your earliest possible convenience.
Furthermore we suggest, under the current air travel conditions, that you make the most of your journey overseas by adding a few days before and after your cruise to enjoy your first and last ports (most likely major cities). You will have time to shake off the jet lag, and be sure that you don't miss your ship due to over-crowded flights.
Plus, if you have kinds of delays we experienced, you may not want to return "over there" for a few more years. If you don't have your flights yet, book them before the prices go up. Even better, shop for the air-inclusive cruise deals which are still very reasonable.
Also, remember that just because you book your air travel through the cruise line it does not guarantee they will get you to the ship if you miss your first port, unless you buy travel insurance from the cruise line. In addition, booking your cruise through a qualified, service-oriented travel agent will also help you tremendously if you find yourself in a bad situation. At least you will have someone to call and help you out of your jam.
Our Image Abroad:
Did you know that travel and tourism generate $1.3 trillion in economic activity in the U.S. every year. That equates to $3.4 billion a day, $148 million an hour, $2.4 million a minute and $40,000 a second. Those figures come from the Travel Industry Association of America, and that is an impressive amount of money.
But sadly, it reflects a serious weakness in our tourism economy.
Attending a conference sponsored by the TIA, I just learned that since 2001 tourism by visa-exempt countries, the Japanese and Europeans for example, coming to the United States is down an astounding 17%. That represents millions of people and billions of dollars in potential wealth that should be coming into America but is being spent mostly in Europe instead; despite the fact that Europeans have a huge currency exchange rate advantage with one Euro equal to 1.51 Dollars.
What is causing this imbalance? There are political arguments concerning world opinion about the U.S., but according to the UK Travel Barometer, since 2004, UK citizens are consistently attributing the top barrier to travel to the U.S. as entry procedures, from poor information about requirements to long visa processing times. Our worries about terrorism have resulted in practices by our Customs and Border Protection departments that many foreign nationals say are considerably daunting to them.
So, instead of making our daunting entrance procedures the "first impression" foreign nationals have of the U.S., make yourself their first impression of us, by reaching out to them in their homelands and encouraging them to come and visit. Let them know how welcoming we can be, as citizens of the United States. With so many cruisers going to Europe this summer, as well as Asia, Australia and elsewhere, I encourage all of you to remember that we are America's ambassadors. Offer a smile, polite conversation, and even an invitation to the locals to come and visit the United States.
Having just returned from Europe, I can tell you it is crowded and expensive. There were already thousands of tourists from the USA over there as early as March this year, but also it is jam-packed with other European nationals taking advantage of the recently opened EU borders.
Some of the crowds I have seen in London and Paris the last few years are like Times Square on New Years Eve. Hardly conducive to sightseeing and family fun. So, let the Europeans know that it's a great time to visit the U.S. Why? not only because we are not nearly as crowded over here as the European capitals are this year. but the U.S. Dollar is extremely cheap, too.