Observer photo by Robin Bravender
Although a rapidly devaluating Dollar has been hurting the American economy, it has caused a boom in D.C. tourism
by LEANDER SCHAERLAECKENS
According to the old economic model, a devaluating currency is bad for the economy. As imports become more expensive and exports cheaper, a country slowly slips into a trade deficit. But thanks to the weak American dollar, Washington, D.C. has become a cheap holiday for European tourists.
Just a month after the euro’s inception in January 2002, an European would have to spend $1.16 to buy one dollar. Nowadays, all he needs is $0.75 — in other words, a European holiday to America has gotten almost 30 percent cheaper. Europeans have certainly taken notice and are heading to the United States in droves.
Moniek Modderkolk, a sales representative for Globe travel agency in the Netherlands, said she has noticed an increase in travel to America. “I don’t think [the weak dollar] is the main reason but it is a very important factor. The euro has made life in Europe more expensive for us Europeans, and that makes America a cheap holiday.”
According to Roeland Sanctorum, director of Connections, one of Belgium’s biggest travel agencies, their bookings to the United States rose 11 percent last November and a further 16 percent in December. Reservations for travel to Washington increased by 32 percent in both November and December.
“Every year we have a big New Year’s sale, and we saw a very noticeable rise in the sale of tickets to the United States,” Sanctorum said.
Sanctorum believes that the weak dollar isn’t the only reason behind the upswing in Washington’s tourism. “We used to lose a lot of business to the threat of terrorism, but that’s on the decline. The threat is less than it used to be, and combined with the weak dollar, [traveling to the United States] has become attractive again. People can’t keep avoiding America forever.”
The TUI travel agency in the Netherlands has also witnessed a fear of traveling to America. “Because of the international relations and the difficulty of entering America — tight customs, etc. — the amount of holidays from the Netherlands to the U.S. had previously decreased,” said TUI spokeswoman Nathalie Hogendoorn. “Now, we’re witnessing a game of catch-up. It is so attractive financially to go there that people care less about that image.”
The rebuilding of the tourism industry — which was rocked by 9/11 — is pivotal in healing America’s economy. According to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, travel and tourism represented seven percent of American exports and 27 percent of its services exports in 2006. That made it the most profitable service industry in the country.
This contributed to a travel trade surplus of $7.3 billion and was good for more than eight million jobs last year. That gives the tourism sector more employees than the construction, business, financial, agriculture, education and healthcare industries.
According to the International Trade Administration, 3.3 million international visitors traveled to the U.S. in November 2006 alone. That’s 11 percent more than in November 2005. While they were here, foreign tourists spent almost $10 billion.
Washington had 1.2 million international visitors in 2004 and 1.3 million in 2005. Hotel rates are considered a good barometer for a booming tourism sector. In 2003, the average hotel room costed $146 per night. A year later that was $161. In the past two years that has increased to $180 a night and $193 a night respectively, according to Smith Travel Research.
Hotel owners aren’t the only ones profiting; some Washingtonians are benefitting too. In 2005, tourism generated so much tax revenue that more than 250,000 households each benefited from $2,135 in tax savings according to the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corporation.
According to Rebecca Pawlowski, the director of communications for the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corporation, there are many new international flights to and from Washington. “Out of Dulles [International Airport], we now have direct flights to Beijing, Rome, Madrid and Tokyo which greatly benefits tourism,” she said. “Operators say there’s been a lot of interest and they’ve seen an increase in demand.”
Though flights have become cheaper, peak-season prices can still be an obstacle for many tourists. From June until the end of August, the Dutch airline KLM charges $1,200 to fly from Amsterdam to Washington D.C. Delta flies that same trip for $1,067. During the rest of the year this flight costs $700 with KLM and $619 with Delta.
Many tourists admit that they aren’t especially influenced by the lower cost of travel to D.C. German tourist Christian Behrendt said, “It made no difference in the decision [to come here] but it’s always nice. It makes traveling to visit here a bit easier.”