ETC official forecasts rise in U.S. arrivals in '99, '00

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NEW YORK -- The number of Americans traveling to Europe is expected to reach 11.5 million this year and to top 12 million in 2000, according to Joseph Buhler, head of Switzerland Tourism in New York and U.S. chairman of the European Travel Commission.

"It's true that Kosovo gave us a scare, but growth resumed quickly," he told ETC's annual Transatlantic Marketing Conference in New York.

In 1998, there were just under 11 million U.S. arrivals; 1999's expected figure of 11.5 million would be the seventh straight record year for U.S. travel to Europe.

The last downturn came in 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf war, when U.S. arrivals dipped to 6.3 million from 7.5 million in 1990.

Buhler said that although baby boomers and seniors are still "Europe's base" in the U.S. market, "younger people now account for more than 30% of our visitors." Families traveling with children make up 15%, he added.

In terms of the geographic breakdown of the market, there has been significant growth from U.S. regions other than the Northeast and the West Coast, traditionally the strongest market segments.

"The South, for instance, sends at least as many visitors to Europe" as either of those two regions, he said. However, Buhler also observed that the growth in U.S. travel to Europe has failed to keep pace with the growth of the "potential market," i.e., those Americans with the resources that would permit them to travel there.

"While our traffic grew 40% since 1990, our potential market grew nearly 100%," Buhler said. He cited "promotional anemia" for the gap.

"We just did not spend anything close to what it takes on promotion to both develop repeat visitor business and to convince more people to make that all-important first trip to Europe," Buhler said.

ETC has been reaching out to the private sector for partners to help sponsor some of its promotional activities, like its newspaper supplements.

For example, a Great Autumn Sale supplement distributed in nine major markets was supported by Volvo, Auto Europe, Go Ahead Vacations and American Airlines; last spring's European Travel Planner had partners including Rail Europe, AT&T and Preview Travel.

"If and when the U.S. economy again responds to gravity, the failure to invest during good times could cost Europe dearly," Buhler said.

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