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[ The U.S. market for travel to Europe ]

February 23, 2009

"The stronger dollar and lower fuel prices should help limit the decline in travel. The return to growth will depend on the success of the Obama administration’s economic plans, but the success of the conference also demonstrates that mobilization of the trade can also be a key factor. So ETC will continue to undertake strong initiatives to consolidate efforts of all partners, and will expand its “You & Europe” campaign. Working together, we can meet the challenges of today and make the most of the economic rebound to come, perhaps as early as this fall". As said during the Jan. 20 Trans-Atlantic Marketing Conference in New York, Jean-Philippe Perol Chairman, USA European Travel Commission,

Overall trans-Atlantic traffic continued to drop in January, with leading carriers reporting an average decline of 4.2 percent compared to January 2008. Capacity was down an average 1.2 percent, putting the average load factor at 72.8. See the Trans-Atlantic Traffic Trends chart. U.S. travel to Europe was down 10.7 percent in November, according to the latest figures from the Dept. of Commerce, for the second month of double-digit decline. We continue to estimate that, for all of 2008, U.S. traffic to Europe totaled about 7 percent less than in 2007. Some individual countries are reporting steeper declines, including Britain (-16 percent), which barely retained its title as the No. 1 overseas destination for Americans. Looking ahead, we project continued declines of 10 percent or more through the winter and into the spring.

Last Tuesday, President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill designed to save or create 3.5 million jobs. The administration last week outlined a separate plan to invest another $2.5 trillion-much of it private funds-to shore up collapsing banks.

With 2008 estimated to have ended with around 12.40 million American visits to Europe, down about 7 percent from the 13.33 million record of 2007, we continue to expect declines of 10 percent or more through the spring, and smaller declines in the summer. The Dept. of Commerce is expected to release preliminary 2008 results this month; final results in March.

France virtually tied Britain as the No. 1 destination for U.S. travelers in 2008. Britain has been the leader, by a wide margin, for most of the past 60 years. France gained by losing slightly less. Britain reported a 16-percent drop to 2.98 million U.S. visits in 2008; that’s a preliminary figure from the Office of National Statistics. Maison de la France is estimating its total at 2.95 million U.S. visits, which would be a 14-percent decline. Of the remaining Top 4 destinations, Germany reported that U.S. visits were down only 4.3 percent through November. Italy has not yet reported a U.S. traffic estimate for 2008. Overall, Britain is down only 2 percent from all overseas markets, thanks to much better performances in other regions. In the U.S. market, the dollar’s weakness versus the pound (since reversed) was a major obstacle through the summer. What is VisitBritain going to do about it?

Worldwide, international travel will decline as much as 2 percent this year, the UN World Tourism Organization said. That would follow a 2-percent increase in 2008 to 924 million, and an average annual increase of 7 percent for the 2004-2007 period.  Europe and the Americas will suffer the sharpest declines, the UNWTO said, as the worldwide recession has hit these regions hardest so far. Europe accounted for 52.9 percent of world arrivals in 2008 (compared to 57.5 percent in 2000). But this share is skewed upward because Europe has so many nations in close proximity (the UNTWO counts each foreign arrival in each nation). Thus Belgians are counted each time they cross the border to France or the Netherlands; and travelers visiting five European countries are counted five times. Residents of regions with relatively few and relatively large countries cross international borders much less frequently. The Americas, North and South, account for only 16 percent of all international travel by the UNTWO measure.

Demand for new passports and renewals has fallen sharply, according to the State Dept.‘s Bureau of Consular Affairs. Last year, 15.7 million new and renewed passports were issued. For this fiscal year, the initial projection was for 17 million passports (largely because of the new documentation required as of June 1 for Americans returning by land from Mexico and Canada). In addition, the Passport Agency projected 1.6 million more applications for the new passport card (less expensive, but no good for air travel). But applications have slowed, and the revised projection for FY2009, which ends Sept. 30, is that 11.2 million passports will be issued. That would still bring the passport-holding population to well over 92 million, by our estimate, or more than 33 percent of total resident U.S. citizens.

For all of 2008, overall trans-Atlantic air traffic was up 3.9 percent, according to data from the Air Transport Association and the Association of European Airlines. While it was Europeans who filled the extra seats (see 18 below) they were flown by American carriers, thanks to their 10-percent increase in capacity. The Europeans ended up with exactly zero combined traffic growth; their capacity for the year was increased only 1 percent. Load factors were close; 79.3 on the U.S. carriers; 81.4 on the Europeans.

European travel to the U.S. declined in November (-5.5 percent) for the first time in 2008. Until then, growth was strong and, for the year, stands at 13.5 percent, representing an impressive gain for the U.S. in terms of revenue and trade surplus. The increases from individual countries: Spain, +31%; France, +26%; Italy and Russia, +25% each; the Netherlands, +22%; Sweden, +19%; Germany, +18%; Switzerland, +17%; Ireland, +9%; and Britain, +3%. The latter accounted for 36 percent of all European visitors to the U.S.

The Caribbean saw U.S.-citizen air traffic fall off 12.4 percent through the fall, according to Dept. of Commerce figures for September-November, with November down 15.2 percent. That was, of course, just after the financial tsunami broke on Wall Street. Caribbean tourism ministers are quoted to the effect that this downturn may be worse than that following the 9/11 attacks. The Caribbean was already dealing with reduced air capacity from the U.S., which will be 9 percent less in January than it was a year ago, according to USA Today. U.S. air traffic to Mexico is also down, but by only 5.5 percent for the same period, with November down 9.3 percent.

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