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Traveler's Checks

Leaving Home Without Them

September 29, 1996|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS

Signs of a declining market in traveler's checks are there:

From 1990 through 1995, for example, the European Travel Commission counted a 13.5% increase (to 8.51 million) in Americans traveling to Europe. The U.S. Department of Commerce counted a 51.2% increase (to 7.37 million) in Americans traveling to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. Annual reports show that American Express traveler's check sales over the same five years grew by just 1%--from $25.3 billion in 1990 to $25.6 billion in 1995.

Harry Joo, controller for Crystal Cruise Lines in Los Angeles and a 21-year veteran of the cruise business, recalls that 15 years ago, as many as 80% of a ship's accounts were settled by passengers handing over traveler's checks. Now, Joo estimates, the figure usually run less than 10%.

In a May survey of 3,000 American travelers, the Travel Industry Assn. of America found that the average respondent had spent $1,442 on his or her last pleasure trip. Of that, just $144 (10%) was in traveler's checks. In a second look at those survey figures this month, the TIAA researchers found a traveler's check generation gap: Travelers over age 55 spent 14% to 15% of their vacation money on traveler's checks; those ages 18 to 24 spent just 5% that way.

Meanwhile, 30% of the travelers' overall spending was via credit cards, and despite all those years of warnings from Karl Malden, 51% of the average traveler's spending was in cash.

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