Dollar's value influences travel plans

March 17, 1995|By Andrew Leckey

Sage advice to U.S. tourists in 1995:

Travel to an economically troubled country where the beleaguered dollar will buy more. Despite the much-heralded plummet of the U.S. greenback, some other countries are actually in much worse shape.

Mexico and Canada, their economic policies in shambles, look ++ like the best prospects for U.S. travelers as the peso and Canadian dollar continue to struggle.

Turkey and Ecuador are true bargains among less-frequented destinations. Meanwhile, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece also will be kinder to your wallet because of decent exchange rates, according to travel and foreign exchange experts.

"We find a lot more Americans on the streets here in Toronto shopping these days, as well as at the ski resorts in western Canada," observed Michael Maxwell, bank note dealer with Thomas Cook Foreign Exchange in Toronto. "I'd bet that not only Toronto but Montreal and Vancouver will be major tourist destinations this summer."

However, Canada does put an unusually high tax bite on purchases, thereby making items somewhat less of a bargain, he cautioned.

Forget Germany and Japan, whose currencies have set post-World War II highs against our dollar. The shopping and accommodations there will be a shocker. London remains the most popular European destination, but expect to get pounded financially there as well.

Most major cities of continental Europe carry hefty price tags for hotels, food and sightseeing cabs, so your best financial advantage is the fact there are bargain airfares to get you there. Increasingly, travel agents suggest you spend your vacation time in the less expensive regions of countries and not so close to big cities.

"Whenever possible when traveling abroad, use an automated teller machine, many of which can be accessed overseas through the Cirrus and Plus systems," advised Steve Loucks, spokesman for the 25,000-member American Society of Travel Agents in Alexandria, Va. "You can withdraw cash, avoid the high cost of converting cash from one currency to another and usually get the highest possible exchange rate."

Similarly, credit cards also are likely to give you much better exchange rates than you'll receive at a foreign bank or hotel, added David Solin, partner in the New York-based Foreign Exchange Analytics consulting firm.

It often pays to take a diversified approach with your cash and travelers checks.

"It's important for a tourist to have a mix of foreign currency, foreign-denominated traveler's checks and U.S.-denominated traveler's checks, because this will allow you to take advantage of any currency shifts one way or another," said Frances Taurasi, director for Thomas Cook Currency Services Inc. operations at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Meanwhile, the level of the dollar means we'll be seeing plenty of foreign tourists in our country this summer. The United States will be a bargain hunter's paradise for foreigners and should provide a boost to our tourism.

Another aspect of the dollar decline is that a number of imported goods sold here could become more expensive, though a lot of items do come from countries with even weaker currencies than our own. Japanese and German manufacturers also know that raising prices too high will mean considerable lost sales.

Furthermore, the largest portion of what Americans buy is made in America anyway. On the positive side of the greenback drop, the weaker dollar will be a boon for U.S. companies that export products.

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