Brits Shun American Holidays
Despite the favourable exchange rate, Britons travel to the USA is declining
By ETN on 23 July 2007 in News
The number of Britons taking holidays in the United States is falling - despite the fact that the pound is now worth more than two dollars.
Yet figures supplied by the Office of National Statistics show that, while travel to EU countries has increased from 41.1 million passengers in 2000 to 53.6 million in the 12 months ending in May this year, the number of Britons visiting North America actually fell from 5.1 million to 4.5 million. During this time the exchange rate has improved for Britons by nearly a third, with the value of a dollar falling from 72p to 50p. Trips by Britons to other parts of the world have increased by nearly 25 per cent since 2000.
This trend seems to have continued this summer. Figures supplied by the Civil Aviation Authority showed that 200,000 more people travelled between Britain and the US in June last year, when the dollar was worth around 55p, than they did last month when the dollar was hovering around the 50p mark.
This week The Daily Telegraph reported that transatlantic travellers have never had it better, with those heading to the US able to find mid-range hotels, car hire and house rentals at half the price of those on Continent. Huge savings are also available on beauty, fashion, entertainment and electronic products.
Yet tour operators to Florida, traditionally a summer favourite for Telegraph readers, have reported that the good exchange rate has done little to encourage holidaymakers.Thomson has responded by cutting the number of holidays it offers to Florida by a third.
CAA figures show that the number of passengers flying from Heathrow to Orlando dropped by 36 per cent between 2006 and 2005. Virgin Atlantic is to cancel 25 flights from Gatwick and Manchester to Orlando in September.
Since 2001, British visitors to the US have become increasingly disillusioned with the stringent security, over-zealous enforcement of regulations and lengthy delays. However, according to Colin Brodie, the UK director of Visit Florida, it is high fuel surcharges on flights, rather than security, that is putting Britons off. Fuel surcharges for return flights to the US for a family of five are now around £400.
Some in the travel trade believe that the favourable exchange rate has staved off what would be a much bigger decline in visitors.
Geoff Medhurst, XL Leisure Group's managing director, said this week that the US is no longer considered "aspirational" for British travellers, with other destinations growing in appeal.
Simon Evans, chairman of the Air Transport Users Council (AUC), said: "With global air fares coming down, aspirations have increased. We now look beyond safe European or English-speaking destinations to more exotic locations such as the Maldives, Goa or Central America." An umbrella group of US tourist organisations, the Discover America Partnership, has been set up to respond to the dwindling numbers of international tourists.
Its proposals for laws to cut waiting times, streamline immigration controls and offer a friendlier welcome were last week approved by the US Senate.
The legislation includes the introduction of a $10 entry fee for visitors entering the US on a visa-waiver arrangement, including Britons. The money raised is to be used to promote US tourism as well as improve the security process. With the average overseas visitor spending £2,000 per trip, the $10 fee would be "virtually unnoticeable", the group claims.
"The fee would go towards addressing the greatest concerns facing European travellers visiting the US today," said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership. "Some travellers have said that they feel they are treated like criminals. We need additional resources to address these issues." The fee will help fund the introduction of a new 10-digit fingerprinting system that will be tested at 10 US airports this autumn (see story below). At present only two digits are fingerprinted and fears have been raised that the new system will lead to further delays.
Travellers to the US will now have a central complaints system through which they will be able to seek redress if they feel they have been unnecessarily held up for questioning or treated in an aggressive manner.
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