In the hot seat: Tom Jenkins

Tom Jenkins is the executive director of the European Tour Operators Association, a lobbying group representing wholesalers bringing passengers into Europe. Editor in chief Arnie Weissmann sat down with him at last week's World Travel Market in London to get his perspective on terrorism, intra-Europe squabbles and the future of travel on the other side of the Atlantic.

Q: Europe's share of world tourism has been declining. Will the decline continue?

A: A pessimist would say it's inevitable, that foreign competition has simply strengthened and that we'll never cure our inherent regional factionalism -- Portugal regards Spain as its No. 1 competitor, France dislikes the idea of anyone visiting Britain and Britain thinks it can mount campaigns in isolation.

But if we have learned anything in the last three years, it's that Europe becomes a unitary destination when people decide to stay away. One of Europe's great strengths is its diversity. National tourism offices will work together in the future because they have to. It's the only way to move forward.

Q: The dollar's weak and the euro's strong. Any possibility for recovery this year?

A: At the same time the euro rose 17% against the dollar, the peso dropped 20%. That is not good news. And because of the euro's strength against the dollar, the U.S. also is looking attractive to the Japanese, so it's a triple whammy for Europe.

On the other hand, a lot of Americans have delayed a trip to Europe for a long time, putting it off year after year. This is the year they'll go. We'll still see an increase of about 15%. But it should be much stronger, considering that we dropped 30% since 9/11.

Q: Do you think Americans have conquered their fears of terrorism?

A: People have, to some extent, gotten used to the threat of terrorism. But the way the authorities have been handling security means the terrorists have won. When you see knitting needles being confiscated from a New Zealand grandmother in the war against al Qaeda, you know they've got it wrong.

This isn't a civilized society protecting itself, it's a society degrading its citizens in an uncivilized manner.

Q: Virtually every large U.S. tour operator belongs to your association. Far & Wide was among them. Has its bankruptcy affected your organization?

A: Seeing that happen is very shy-making; one gets bashful. But while we're very supportive of what members do, we're careful not to endorse the quality of their products or the probity of their dealings. And we do not have a bond program.

Q: Over the past few years, what has been your biggest frustration?

A: That so many negative perceptions have been misperceptions. The fact is, Europe is an extremely safe destination. Air is a uniquely safe way to travel. Travel is of such enormous importance -- to not do it denigrates our lives and damages our economy. There's much to be done.

To contact Editor-in-Chief Arnie Weissmann, send e-mail to [email protected].

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