EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 15, 2008

Focus: Euro boosts tourism in Eastern Europe, Caribbean, USA

By Yadira Betances

Don't let the dropping value of the dollar keep you from standing at the foot of the Eiffel Tower or marveling at the ruins in Athens.

Local agents said the key to going to Europe is making all travel arrangements in the United States where you can pay for the arrangements in dollars, instead of converting the money into Euro.

The Euro was introduced in 2002 in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Since then, the American dollar has lost much of its buying power in Europe. This spring, the Euro was at an all-time high, at almost $1.60 to one Euro, compared to $1.33 a year ago.

"We recommend people keep going where they want to go," said Alyson Demokritou, travel manager for AAA Merrimack Valley. "You can make your dollar go further by getting a prepaid package before you go and you don't have to wonder what the exchange is going to be."

Demokritou said many of the packages available include air fare, hotel, meals and tours.

Travel agents like Demokritou and Joanne Toscano, owner of Rite Way Travel in Methuen, said taking a cruise is the best way to visit Europe.

"A cruise is a good bargain because everything is paid for in the U.S.," Toscano said. "The more you prepay, the better off you are."

If you still want to travel across the pond and avoid countries where the U.S. dollar is weak, Demokritou recommended places like Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary in Eastern Europe where they still use their own currencies. They offer endless natural beauty and Old World folk culture.

"They are getting better and better at welcoming tourists," Demokritou said.

A stronger Euro is making people travel to the Caribbean and Mexico where the dollar is stronger against those countries' currencies. At Rite Way Travel, Toscano said Cancun, Mexico and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic are popular spots.

Another trend Demokritou has seen since the Euro has become stronger than the dollar is more travel within the United States.

"Hopefully that will help our own economy," she said.

Either flying or cruising to Europe or the Caribbean, agents said Americans are still enjoy soaking up the sun or visiting the castles and other landmarks in Europe.

International air travel was 85.7 percent between 2006 and 2007, according to the Plunkett Research Ltd., with revenue from international travel totaling $735 billion.

"As of right now it's busy, and I hope it will continue," Toscano said.