Americans traveling abroad should eat where the locals do, stay in the countryside or outside major metropolitan areas and shop for the specialty products of the country they are visiting. That's the advice of several heads of foreign government tourist offices to travelers trying to get more for their money this year.
"The value of the dollar has steadily dropped since last summer," explained Stella Plunkett, director of marketing for Deak-Perera, foreign exchange broker.
"In general it has dropped against those of European countries . . . and particularly against the Japanese, Swiss and Germans," Plunkett said. "We're noticing a trend toward more travel in the South Pacific and Asian countries, and a decrease in the Middle East and Central Europe."
Bargains in Greece
While the decline has averaged about 25% against most major currencies since last March, the news is not all bad for Americans traveling overseas. For instance, the exchange rate with Greece remains close to what it was a year ago.
"Americans don't have to do much to stretch their money here," said Vasilis Papadatos, director of the Greek National Tourist Organization. "Greece is one of the cheapest countries in Europe to visit now.
"You can find some terrific buys when it comes to leather goods, gold, silver, jewelry and copper items," Papadatos said.
"A bargain would even be possible now in a deluxe hotel because, as a result of last year's unfortunate events, our hotels and cruises have suffered the loss of many American travelers," he said.
Eager to see Americans return, many hotels and cruise lines have reduced prices to encourage more visitors, Papadatos said.
Tim Bartlett, the British Tourist Authority's manager for the Western United States, recommends that travelers to Britain try lower-priced accommodations.
"Country inns and bed-and-breakfasts are very reasonable," Bartlett said. For example, a bed-and-breakfast that costs $100 a night in the United States is as inexpensive as $15 or $20 there, he said.
"Spend more time outside the capital city. York, Edinburgh and Bath all have plenty to see," Bartlett said. "Save money by limiting the area you cover. One can happily spend a week in an area such as Oxford. As for dining, you can save a lot of money if you do as the British do and eat in pubs."
Shopping in Italy
If shopping is your object, Italy has a lot to offer, according to Agostino Petti, travel commissioner of the Italian Government Travel Office in San Francisco.
Designer goods that cost $200 in the United States are as inexpensive as $60 or $70 in Italy, Petti said. "In addition to shoes, gloves and fashions, excellent artist silver is available at reasonable prices," he said.
In Germany, there are reasonable prices for rail travel and car rentals, according to Hans J. Baumann, director of the German National Tourist Office.
For savings on accommodations, Baumann recommends tourists stay at castles that have been converted into hotels or at converted historic buildings of the Romantik hotel chain.
"If you want lower-priced meals, go into smaller towns and restaurants. Or even into the suburbs of Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart," he said.
"It is going to be somewhat more expensive than last year, but prices are just about the same as they were two or three years ago," Baumann said.
Jean-Michel Harzic, Western U.S. director of the French Government Tourist Office, advises: "Buy in large stores where tax rebates are available. Pay with traveler's checks or credit cards for a better rate of exchange.
"Look in Paris for discount fashion stores. Use the Metro (subway system) around Paris--it is very safe. Try medium-range restaurants, especially in the Halles area, a district where a lot of new restaurants are opening. Go for the traditional Paris-type hotels, 30- to 50-room size in the two- or three-star categories."
The best bargains? "Top name fashions and designer articles," Harzic said.
Tours in Japan
A year ago a dollar equaled 260 Japanese yen, but now it brings less than 180. Yuji Izumi, director of the Japan National Tourist Organization here, suggests that budget travelers buy package tours to save money.
"Tour operator wholesalers are doing their best to keep tour prices the same," Izumi said. These tours often combine a stop in Japan with visits to nearby countries, which helps to keep the price down, he added.
"Eat where the Japanese do and you'll pay what the Japanese are paying," Izumi said. And if language is a problem, point to the replica of the dish you would like to order in the display case.
Tourists interested in electrical goods can save by shopping in the electric wholesale districts, such as the Akihabara area of Tokyo. "There you can buy items much cheaper than tax-free," Izumi said.