Bookings Remain Strong Despite Weak Dollar

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS reported earlier this month that the dollar had fallen to a record low against the euro, in addition to hitting a 26-year low against the British pound. But it appears no one minds that overseas vacations are getting more expensive for U.S. travelers. Many travel agents are reporting strong forward bookings and noting that clients—especially those in the luxury market—aren't shifting plans for the sake of pinching pennies.

"Occasionally my higher-end clients will grumble, but getting what they want aces saving money," says Barry Hyatt of Air & Marine Travel in Brewster, NY. "There are clients who will either travel in style or stay home."

That sentiment seems to ring true across the board. At least one luxury travel provider says that even if the price of a hotel stay skyrockets to $5,000 a night, there still will be strong demand. "Because I do cater to such a very specific clientele who believe time is money, they don't really care about the price," says Pascale Gherardi, owner of New York-based Voyage by Pascale. "They just want the best available." The Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic

One way clients are adjusting to the unfavorable exchange rate is by traveling to countries that don't use the euro. Anastasia Mann, chairman and CEO of Corniche Travel in West Hollywood, CA, says her agency has seen a drop in travel to European capitals, but is witnessing increased interest in places like Turkey, which uses the new lira. (At press time, one dollar equaled 1.189 new liras.)

Clients on a Budget

Even budget-minded travelers seem to be accepting the higher price of a European vacation. "Our mid-price clients always have liked adding one or two nights of luxury to make their European vacations a little special and they are still doing just that," reports Kate Murphy of Uniglobe Wings Travel in Blue Bell, PA.

However, Trudy Lagerman, a travel consultant with Liberty Travel in Selinsgrove, PA, has encountered resistance over pricing. "The budget-conscious clients are watching the dollar and realizing it is not getting better," she says. "So with 2008 bookings, they are not upgrading their accommodations and maybe staying at a two-star hotel versus their normal three-star property." Lagerman is even hearing some clients say they will wait until 2009 to take a trip abroad, but her advice is always "Go now—it does not appear it will end anytime soon."

To nudge along the bookings of monetarily concerned travelers, agents need to do more price shopping. "I have a family of 10 going on a cruise and the pre-[cruise] night hotel stay booked through the cruise line cost $564 per person," says Heinke McDade of McDade Travel in Roanoke, VA. "That's over $5,000, so I went to Travel Bound and said, 'I need something in the $3,000 price range.' They came back with a hotel in the same area and guaranteed king beds—there are some tall people in this family."

McDade recommends booking European trips through tour operators when possible. "They have the buying power that I don't have as one individual," she says. "Our vendors have wonderful negotiating tools."

Cruises are also helping to ease the pain of the weak dollar. As an incentive, many lines are offering deals on airfare, McDade notes.

Even with no immediate end in sight to all of this dollar drama, agents have no complaints. "We are so busy," McDade says. "Usually we are in a slow period at this time, but we are having very strong bookings."

—JENNIFER MERRITT

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