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Give Peace a Chance and Travelers Will Follow
October 20, 1994 -- Travelers are delivering a not-too-subtle message to the world's politicians: If you give peace a chance, we will come to your country and we will spend lots of money.
It doesn't take a talking-head travel expert to divine what's on the collective mind of travelers. We're eager and anxious to visit places where peace has broken out and the news is of progress, not peril. But they are increasingly wary of destinations where crime, political turmoil or terrorism portend real or imagined dangers.
Keeping in mind that peace is sometimes the most impossible dream of all, here's how the travel world is shaping up for the coming year.
ON THE HOMEFRONT
If you need proof that bad news discourages travel, consider Florida, which has been plagued by a spate of crimes against tourists. The Sunshine state remains securely atop the nation's travel "wish list"--more than one in three American expressed an interest in visiting Florida, according to the most recent survey of the non-profit Travel Industry Association (TIA)--yet tourism actually is declining. During the first six months of 1994, nearly a million fewer travelers visited Florida than during the comparable period in 1993. Travelers who may have otherwise gone to Florida may be going to Hawaii instead. After several years of declining popularity, the number of tourists visiting Hawaii has increased for five consecutive months.
Also popular are gaming and casino vacations. More Americans now visit casinos than go to concerts or attend major-league baseball games (when they're playing, of course). And the number of venues where Americans can put down a bet continue to grow. Gambling in some form is now legal in all but two states. One gaming company predicts there could be as many as 68 Mississippi riverboat casinos and 75 Indian reservation casinos operating by the end of the year. The big news for 1995: the 200,000-square-foot Harrah's Casino New Orleans, expected to be the world's largest.
THE CRUISE NEWS
The cruise industry is growing by about 10 percent annually and it's no wonder. Fewer than one in ten Americans have ever been on a cruise. According to CLIA, the cruise industry's trade association, about two dozen new ships will be launched by 1998. Six vessels, offering almost 8,000 new berths, are expected to be christened in 1995. Even two sanitation scares--and two deaths--in 1994 have not slowed the momentum.
The political unrest in Cuba and Haiti didn't have much effect on Americans, but a flurry of crimes against travelers to Jamaica did: tourism tumbled 8.5 percent.
One seemingly irresistible trend in the Caribbean is the all-inclusive vacation, the concept that bundles accommodations, dining, activities and even taxes and tips, into one pre-packaged price. Sandals, the leader in the field, opened its ninth Caribbean resort this year and will open a tenth (on Barbados) next year. Its main competitor, SuperClubs, is due to open its six Caribbean all-inclusive in 1995. The concept is so popular that some traditional Caribbean hotels are falling into line. The Nassau Beach Hotel, for example, recently converted one wing of its property into the all-inclusive Palm Club.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER
Americans clearly prefer to stay close to home when venturing to Latin America and that means Mexico. (Visitor totals were expected to increase by 15 percent in 1994.) One rising star: Chile, where the economy is booming, the nascent democracy seems stable and tourists feel safe.
ON THE CONTINENT
France and Italy continue to fire the imagination of American travelers, but Britain remains first in our hearts. In fact, the number of American visitors to Great Britain jumped seven percent, according to the most recent figures. Then there's Europe's own peace dividend: Just days after a ceasefire took hold in Northern Ireland, Hilton International announced plans to build a luxury hotel in war-torn Belfast. On the flip side, however, there is Turkey, long a magnet for bargain-hunting American tourists. Terrorism aimed at tourists continued throughout 1994 and hotel bookings have plunged.
Prices may be the big problem in western Europe next year. A favorable exchange rate made the continent more affordable this summer, but the dollar is declining again against most major western European currencies. Prices may seem too rich for American blood next summer.
In Eastern Europe, however, prices seem to be easing and the tourist infrastructure is slowly catching up with demand. In Budapest, for example, Marriott completed a year-long renovation of a hotel it purchased from the Hungarian government. A reasonably priced (about $88 a night) new hotel opened in Prague. And Minneapolis-based Radisson Hotels opened a resort on the Russian Black Sea this year and promises a 370-room hotel in Riga, Latvia, in 1995.
ACROSS THE PACIFIC
Although its government remains repugnant to some, and parts of the country seem dangerous to others, China is clearly back in favor with American travelers. U.S. tourism to China has increased by more than 16 percent, according to the most recent figures. Another former enemy, Vietnam, is also undeniably on the tourism fast track. Travel soared as soon as the U.S. government lifted restrictions in February. There even are plans to build a golf resort at infamous China Beach. One of the target audiences: "American GIs who want to go back," says a spokesman for one of the U.S. partners in the development.
Meanwhile, the enduring popularity of Australia is rubbing off on the entire South Pacific. Travel to New Zealand is soaring even though two U.S. airlines recently withdrew from the market. And interest in the region is so great that Cosmos, a major tour wholesaler, has increased by 33 percent its roster of 1995 South Pacific tours.
AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
Next year's big winners, however, could be two places where Americans until recently have feared to tread: the Middle East and South Africa. The boom in South African travel began in 1991 when South African Airways resumed direct service to the United States. Momentum continued this year when a U.S.-based carrier, USAfrica Airways, launched its own flights. The detente between Arabs and Israelis has convinced Americans that it is safe to visit the Holy Land again.
Americans are anxious "to enjoy the travel dividends of peace," says Alex Harris, chairman of General Tours, one of the many operators adding combined Arab-Israeli itineraries. "Destinations that were once impossible to combine now join together in peace. It's a traveler's dream come true."
This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.
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