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International : Despite rising prices, 6.6 million visitors are due in Europe in '89.

March 05, 1989|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

Although prices continue to rise overseas, American tourists, it appears, will be off and running in record numbers again in 1989.

In an annual Times Travel survey, Europe emerges as the front-runner, with expectations for the busiest year in the Continent's history.

Last year 6.5 million Americans visited Europe, tying an

all-time high set in 1985 before tourism declined abruptly following the hijacking of a U.S. airliner, the Achille Lauro incident and massacres at airports in Italy and Austria.

Even the recent explosion of a Pan Am jet, in which 270 persons lost their lives in Scotland, has had little affect on airline bookings. According to Don Ford, who heads the 23-nation European Travel Commission, Europe has set its sights on 6.6 million visitors during '89.

Ford describes reservations from Southern California as "excellent." At the same time he cautions Americans to make advance purchases of vacation packages--rail travel, hotels and other travel-related expenditures--in an effort to avoid the low dollar exchange in Europe.

Voit Gilmore, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, forecasts a "bullish year" for the U.S. travel industry. Director of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Administration under former President John F. Kennedy, Gilmore looks for Western Europe to remain the top destination of American travelers. At the same time he foresees a growing interest in Eastern Europe and the Pacific Basin: "All signals are good for travel in 1989."

An increase in travel among all age groups is forecast by Tommaso Zanzotto, president of Travel Services for American Express, whose company is offering a "totally unrestricted" guarantee of prices, even in the event of European currency fluctuations. In 1988 sales by American Express leaped ahead 20%. A similar increase is anticipated this year.

Eric Friedheim, publisher of Travel Agent magazine, describes as "positive" the outlook for travel to Europe, basing his forecast on new airline promotional fares and "tour operators struggling to hold the line on prices."

Recalling Pan Am's crash in Scotland, Martin B. Deutsch, publisher of OAG Magazines, described the American traveler as becoming "inured" to such crises. "Grotesque as this bombing was, I don't feel it will result in any major impact on travel." Deutsch believes only a series of such events would deter the expected stampede to Europe.

His feelings are shared by Alan Fredericks, editor-in-chief of the bible of the industry, Travel Weekly. Fears of political turmoil or a weakening dollar could inhibit travelers, Fredericks said. Otherwise, he forecasts "a strong international year in travel, with a good deal of momentum under way in Europe, Asia and the Pacific in particular" (although at least one major tour operator disagrees on the Pacific issue).

Industry leaders made these other observations:

--Travel to Hawaii by mainlanders has softened.

--China is an enigma, with pros and cons over its popularity as a "single" destination.

--The U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe are experiencing record bookings.

--After several lean years, bookings to Egypt are surprisingly high.

--Caribbean countries look to a modest increase in tourism.

--Records are being shattered by the cruise industry.

--The South Pacific will outperform the Far East in growth during '89 (with Australia and New Zealand on top of the heap).

--Hong Kong remains the hottest spot in the Orient.

--Mexico is anticipating a 10% to 15% increase in tourism this year. (Carlos Hempe, regional director of the Mexican Government Tourism Office in Beverly Hills, predicts his country's tourist industry will double within 10 years.)

--France will welcome record numbers of visitors due to its bicentennial observance of the French Revolution.

--Canada is looking forward to a 10% rise in tourism.

--After a disastrous 1988, Israel will recover. (Ari Sommer, director of the Israel Government Tourist Office in Los Angeles, is forecasting a 12% increase from the West Coast.)

An unprecedented interest in Russia and Eastern Europe is credited to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose reforms and winning personality appear responsible for record bookings to the Soviet Union.

Paul Albrecht of Globus-Gateway tells how "space to the U.S.S.R. is limited only due to the number of hotels that are available." With bookings made up to a year in advance, Albrecht said, "We're having to pamper Intourist (the official Soviet tour agency) for space."

No Room at Inn

James Murphy of Brendan Tours describes travel to the Soviet Union as "enormous." Murphy expects tours to the U.S.S.R. to be sold out by the end of April.

As a result, an industry spokesperson said, the Soviets are hiking prices. Still, costs in some cases are surprisingly low. Murphy is selling a 15-day tour (Moscow, Yalta, Kiev, Leningrad) for $3,187, including round-trip air from Los Angeles, hotels, meals, theater performances and sightseeing. Everything but a peck on the cheek from Gorbachev himself.

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