Monday, May 23, 2011

Weak Dollar Will Help Tourism Industry, Executives Say

LAS VEGAS – A weakened dollar is benefiting the U.S. tourism industry, luring foreign visitors who want to see their euros and yen go farther, travel executives said at a major industry conference here.
Already, hotels, restaurants, and merchants in tourist destinations are seeing an increase in foreign visitors, industry executives said at the Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Las Vegas. Several hotel industry executives said they are seeing particularly notable increases in travelers from Europe, where the common currency has risen against the dollar. 

"There are more Europeans coming to the United States, said Arne Sorenson, the chief operating officer of the hotel company Marriott International Inc. "That will continue." 

The optimism over increased tourism comes amid a long-term drop in the value of the dollar. The dollar's weakness has given foreign travelers more buying power when they visit the U.S., burnishing the country's appeal as a destination.

California has seen a considerable pick up in international travel, said Caroline Beteta, chief executive of the California Travel and Tourism Commission. Ms. Betata attributed the influx of travelers to the currency, as well as a broader global recovery and the state's marketing efforts. 

"The international traveler spends more money than domestic travelers and they travel off-peak," Ms. Beteta said. "They are absolutely platinum business."

Still, the U.S. isn't seeing the same growth in foreign visitors that other countries have seen. Over the past 10 years, the travel industry says international travel to the U.S. has increased just 2%. Top industry executives have recently stepped up pressure on the federal government to ease restrictions on travel to the U.S. and speed up the time it takes to process visas. 

"The economic opportunity for travel into the United States is enormous," Mr. Sorenson said. "We will lose if we don't seize it. Those travelers will learn to go somewhere else."

The industry is also closely watching the price of oil, the axis of what so many things in the travel sector depend on, most especially air travel costs. 

"The biggest issue facing the airline industry is fuel price," Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways, said in an interview. "If fuel prices stay where they are…air travel is absolutely going to get more expensive."