July 08, 2008

The Dollar and Danish-American tourism

After the American Century

The summer sun draws people away from their computers, out into their yards, on to bicycles or off on vacations. This year a record number of Danes will visit the United States, about 300,000 I read in the local press. Given that Denmark only has 5.2 million people, that means almost 6% of the nation's population is flying over the Atlantic and back. At that rate by 2026 every single Dane could make a visit. More personally, many people I know are going to the US, and my students over there are stretching their stay as long as they can. Everyone says what a bargain the US is, with the dollar so weak, and all take an extra, empty suitcase to fill with inexpensive clothes, books, designer goods, and whatnot. To be more precise, back in September, 2000, you needed 8.82 kroner to buy one dollar. Yesterday you only needed 4.76.

Because of that drop in the dollar, fewer Americans are going to Europe this year. Furthermore, airline prices are up due to high oil prices and they have on average less dollars to spend. While July is still the middle of the season, it appears that US tourism is down by about 5%. One suspects that those who come may seek slightly cheaper hotels and restaurants and/or stay for a shorter period. Likewise, the tourists who do come may buy less. Again, more personally, I saw more old friends coming trough in May and June, before the highest airline prices set in, and I sense that there are fewer coming all-in-all.

A report on tourism prepared by Deloitte suggests that Americans are also changing their vacation habits. Time was people took a two week vacation - which sounds short by Danish, French or German standards, where three to five weeks is common. Indeed, all Danes have the legal right to three continuous weeks of vacation once a year, plus 14 more days. But Americans have just two weeks, and it is getting harder to take them all at once. Instead, there are mini-vacations. These short breaks are best enjoyed without too much flying or too much jetlag after arrival, so perhaps given such time constaints, going to Europe is a little less attractive than it used to be. There is much else of interest in this report, which is based on interviews with 2027 people last October, and supposedly has a margin or error of only 2%. For example, the Internet is changing buying habits, reducing loyalty to providers, and increasing the levels of information available to tourists. It is also changing the ways we can all be ripped off! The report is available at http://www.deloitte.com/dtt/article/0,1002,cid%253D184903,00.html

As for me, an American in Europe, I will defy the transatlantic trend and vacation within the EU. I prefer the US during spring and autumn, when airline tickets are cheaper and temperatures lower. And, I would like to be there close to the election. As for the dollar, my sense is that it probably will not rise before November, unless economies elsewhere begin to falter.