NEW YORK -- Europe's common euro currency becomes tangible coin of
the realm Jan. 1, when long-awaited banknotes and pocket change
finally will hit the streets of most European Union countries.
U.S. visitors should benefit from the historic switch to the
euro, said travel industry figures, although agents should prepare
clients heading to the Continent for minor hassles and glitches as
national currencies are phased out for good.
For all its novelty and hype, "the euro's just another currency,
and it makes life easier," said Heinz Wesner, president of
Destination Europe Resources, Rosemont, Ill., noting euro bills and
coins will be legal tender across 12 of 15 very different EU
Colorful euro banknotes will be issued in denominations of 5,
10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros, while coins will be worth 2
euros, 1 euro and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 "cents."
Agents who want to familiarize clients with euros before
departure can download educational materials -- including mock
bills and coins -- by visiting the EU Internet site at www.europa.eu.int/index_en.htm and clicking on the
"The Euro: The European Union in Your Hand" logo.
The good news
The replacement of national currencies with the euro will make
price comparisons across frontiers -- once clouded by discordant
exchange rates -- a simple matter, said DER's Wesner. Fewer trips
to exchange bureaus and banks also spells savings for tourists.
"Travelers will definitely benefit on that front," said Sue
Harraka, a Europe specialist agent with Nova Travel Services,
Calabasas, Calif. "Banks earned commissions each time people
exchanged; thanks to that alone, [the change] is worth it," she
And because the euro (symbol: E) is "pretty much equivalent to
the dollar, it makes currency conversion -- figuring out the price
of dinner, shopping, etc. -- so much easier," said a spokeswoman
for Rail Europe, in White Plains, N.Y.
Indeed, the euro -- valued at 89 U.S. cents at the time of this
article -- should ease headaches for tourists used to struggling
with multiple currencies on one trip, even as Europeans themselves
struggle to adapt.
The other side of the coin
The changeover, however, could result in delays at points of
purchase across the EU, so visitors should be warned to expect some
Cashiers at both public and private concerns will be working
with dual cash tills for at least two months, until national
currencies are phased out, said Christopher Matthews, spokesman for
the EU's European Commission executive branch in New York,
"The will be some lines" as cashiers fumble with the new
currency and exchange rates, he said, despite a decade-long
campaign to familiarize Europeans with their new monies.
"They've run simulations in some cities where lines for things
like train tickets expanded considerably," noted Matthews.
The E.U. also is addressing fears that unscrupulous suppliers
may use the changeover to mask price hikes.
"It's a hot political issue," said Sven Boinet, a member of the
management board of hotel activities at Accor Hotels, Paris.
"You've got governments looking at all pricing and scrutinizing
anyone who might take advantage."
Austria tour operator Susanne Servin of Herzerl Tours, Tuckahoe,
N.Y., noted that rounding up to the next euro there is already
illegal and "is being very strictly watched."
However, visitors to the Netherlands may encounter some rounding
off, said Conrad van Tiggelen, director, North America, for the
Netherlands Board of Tourism in New York. "But it will be in small
percentages, and sometimes may benefit the consumer."
Travelers should be reminded local currencies such as Finnish
marks and Spanish pesetas can be used at hotels, restaurants and
other businesses until Feb. 28, after which only the euro will be
accepted as legal tender.
Old national banknotes and coins, however, will be exchangeable
at banks for several more months, if not years. And although the
euro is the new EU monetary standard, not all member states will
adopt the currency.
Visitors to Great Britain, Denmark and Sweden still must
purchase local currencies, though prices may be posted in euros as
Getting to know euro
Destinations and suppliers will work throughout 2002 to educate
consumers and agents about the new currency. The Netherlands, for
example, includes euro updates in its bimonthly news fax to agents,
said van Tiggelen.
And the EU and European Travel Commission will host a joint
marketing conference and forum on the euro Jan. 16 at the Grand
Hyatt hotel in New York. (For more information, contact the ETC at
The currency itself should be available at U.S. exchange venues
beginning Jan. 1.
JPMorgan Chase's New York-based Currency to Go exchange service
will sell euros as of the new year, said a spokeswoman.
Until then, Chase -- which is not taking advance orders for next
year -- can issue traveler's checks denominated in euros.
Spare coins can go to a good cause
NEW YORK -- Spare European coins lying around and collecting
Thanks to the joint "Euro Currency for New York" effort of the
European Union, the Bank of New York and Travelex, residents of and
visitors to the metropolitan New York region can donate leftover
European change -- which is virtually impossible to exchange in the
U.S. -- to the Twin Towers Fund for victims of September's
Twelve national currencies lose their status as legal tender to
the euro after Feb. 28, but currency from Austria, Belgium,
Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Portugal and Spain can be donated to the fund at 300
branches of the Bank of New York.