In the wake of a distressing 1986 season in Europe, the travel industry is focusing on 1987 with cautious optimism.
While strides were made in tourism in many areas of the world last year, Europe suffered. With reports of scattered violence, Americans by the thousands canceled trips. It was a disappointing year for the Europeans, who have come to depend on U.S. tourism to bolster their own economies. Airlines took huge losses along with hotel and tour operators. Now with the '87 season under way, Americans appear to be putting to rest concern over violence as they rush to sign up for tours of Britain and the Continent.
In an annual poll conducted by The Times Travel Section, industry leaders agreed that barring any unforeseen violence this spring, Europe likely will be teeming with U.S. visitors by summer.
With renewed interest in Europe, U.S. travelers will be returning to old haunts in London, Paris, Rome and other perennial favorites.
Indeed, if there is a deterrent to travel overseas in 1987, probably it will involve the weakening U.S. dollar. Francis Goranin, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, told The Times that rates at Europe's luxury hotels will cost Americans up to 35% more because of the dollar's deflated buying power.
On the other hand, travel habits of Americans are changing. Instead of spending recklessly, they are searching out those same bargains sought by Europeans.
As a result, ASTA's Goranin is forecasting a 10% increase in tourism to Europe while a number of other industry leaders are even more optimistic. An all-time record was set in 1985 when 6.4 million Americans crowded Europe. Then last year with the memory of a TWA airliner hijacking, airport violence and the incident on the Italian liner, Achille Lauro, Europe's tourism plunged.
"Europe was reeling at the end of 1986 from the decline in U.S. arrivals," said Martin B. Deutsch, editor and publisher of Travel Management Daily, explaining that "many European suppliers and tourism officials blamed the U.S. news media for unfairly magnifying the danger of travel to Europe." Deutsch said tour operators and group travel companies were especially affected. "Some suffered declines of up to 90% and others closed down altogether."
While the specter of inflation due to the soft dollar is a new consideration, the industry appears generally optimistic.
Those replying to The Times poll made these other observations:
--Mexico expects a "stunning" increase in tourism during 1987.
--The Orient anticipates a successful year.
--Australia looks forward to new records due to the publicity generated by the America's Cup and because of Australia's own lively promotions.
--In the case of Canada, where the U.S. dollar remains strong, an increase by American visitors is anticipated.
--South America is expected to experience only modest successes in 1987.
--The cruise business will continue its unprecedented growth.
Donna Tuttle, U.S. undersecretary for Travel and Tourism, told The Times that a beefed-up security program in Europe is responsible for the anticipated return by Americans to the Continent.
"This (security) is a high-priority item," she said.
To attract U.S. visitors, the industry points to a number of bargain packages.
Globus-Gateway/Cosmos is featuring a 16-day tour of England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France for $869 that includes first-class hotels, transfers, sightseeing and some meals.
Brendan Tours is offering an 11-day tour of Ireland that will provide accommodations with breakfast and dinner (with a banquet at Bunratty Castle) for $668. The same operator is booking a 16-day grand tour of Europe for $869 with visits to Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.
Dennis Droushiophis, vice chairman of the European Travel Commission, is even more optimistic than his colleagues. Droushiophis is predicting a 15% increase among American travelers. "Europe is hoping to attract that large number of U.S. visitors who canceled their trips last year."
Representing 23 nations, the ETC is conducting a lively promotion campaign. "With air fares stabilized and more attractive land packages, the consumer will be receiving a great deal of value," the ETC told The Times.
Still, with the weakening dollar, tourists must shop for bargains. They are still available for those who do their homework.
Britain is anticipating as many as 3 million American visitors. With 1987 marking the 400th anniversary of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, observances will be staged throughout Scotland in castles and palaces associated with that monarch, including Stirling Castle where the queen was crowned.