Follow falling currencies for travel bargains Savings: Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and others have good deals for Americans.

Strategies

November 08, 1998|By Christopher Reynolds | Christopher Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Follow the money, a certain anonymous source told Watergate reporter Bob Woodward about 25 years ago, and that advice often serves consumers well too. But if you're a traveler looking for bargains abroad, you're better off doing the opposite: Follow the enfeebled economies.

Mostly, that means checking out nations whose currency buys substantially fewer dollars than it did a year or two ago - such as the nations of Southeast Asia, but also often-overlooked destinations such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the relationship between exchange-rate fluctuations and bargains for travelers is not constant. If it were, Russia would be a prime target for bargain-hunters (it isn't), and Hong Kong wouldn't be worth a second look (but it is).

Here's a quick look at several countries.

* Australia: In the past 12 months, the Aussie dollar's worth fell 20 percent against the U.S. dollar, and since the beginning of 1997, the fall has been closer to 25 percent. The result: A ticket to the Sydney Opera House runs about $18 today, vs. $24 in January 1997. In a recent survey, the Australian Tourist Commission reported these prices in American dollars: a day cruise to the outer Great Barrier Reef, $77; a daylong camel safari at Alice Springs, $46; a night at the Coconut Beach Rainforest Resort, $125. Aside from the exchange rate dip, the sudden shortage of Asian travelers (as they stay home to lick their financial wounds) has made Australia especially eager to lure Americans. Tourist commission studies show American tourism in Australia in the first half of 1998 was up 16 percent over the same period in 1997. For information, call the Aussie Helpline at 805-775-2000 or online at http://www.australia.com.

* Canada: The Canadian dollar has fallen 9 percent against the U.S. dollar in the last year. But that fluctuation is only part of a larger landscape: Not only is Canada's currency at its weakest point against the U.S. dollar in decades, but Canada also is suffering mightily from the absence of Asian visitors. In the first half of this year, the number of Asian visitors in Canada fell 23 percent compared to the previous year. Over the same time, the number of U.S. tourists has jumped more than 9 percent. For information, call the Canadian Tourism Commission at 213-346-2700 or online at http://206.191.33.50/tourism/Canada/index.html.

* New Zealand: The Kiwi dollar has fallen 22 percent against the U.S. dollar in the last year. The result: A bungee jump at Kawarau (the foremost such spot in the country) can be had for about $52; a daylong tour of Milford Sound goes for about $81; and a three-course dinner (without wine) at Gantley's restaurant in Queens-town fetches about $22. For information, call the New Zealand Tourism Board at 800-388-5494 or 310-395-7480 or online at http://www.nztb.govt.nz.

* Hong Kong: The Hong Kong dollar, long tied to the U.S. dollar, stood at 7.75 per U.S. dollar on Sept. 11, virtually the same rate as it had one year before. But since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control last year and Japan's economy went sour, tourism has dropped dramatically, retail prices have tumbled as well, and tour operators, hotels and airlines have been scrambling to entice Americans. From Nov. 16 through March 15, San Diego-based Japan & Orient Tours offers a seven-day, five-night package, including airfare and lodging, starting at $868 per person, double occupancy - or $300 to $400 less than the prices a year ago. Cathay Pacific, meanwhile, offers an All Asia Pass for $999 per person (excluding taxes), which gives you round-trip air fare between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, as well as connections to any or all of 17 other Asian cities over a period of 30 days. Travel must be completed by Dec. 15. For in-formation, call the Hong Kong Tourist Association at 800-282-4582 or 310-208-4582 or online at http://www.hkta.org.

* Russia: Russian rubles fell 96 percent against the dollar in the year ended Sept. 11. Two Russian tourism industry veterans warned that visitors may find many prices higher, not lower, because the Russian economy (especially restaurants) depends so heavily on imported goods.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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