Mall of America

Published on Thursday, May 22, 2008

US tourism: slowing down

Perhaps not unexpectedly in the wake of a weakening economy, the US’s tourist market is showing signs of slowing down.

"Big cities such as New York and Washington may attract more foreign visitors, thanks to the weak dollar, but ticket sales can be erratic, and Americans are thinking about fewer, shorter, less-expensive trips," said the AP.

"We're really in kind of tenuous territory," said Suzanne Cook, research vice president at the Travel Industry Association.

A new Rand McNally survey says two-thirds of Americans planning road trips this summer are either altering their plans to shorten their trips or canceling altogether.

AAA predicted the number of Americans planning to drive more than 50 miles over Memorial Day weekend is down by 1%. Air travel will decline slightly as well, AAA said.

Room occupancy rates in some cities such as Las Vegas have fallen slightly, forcing casinos to lower hotel room prices.

Gambling giant MGM Mirage Inc. and local casino operator Station Casinos have cut their work forces. Las Vegas Sands, which opened a massive new casino on the Strip in January, unexpectedly swung to a loss of $11.2 million in the first quarter of the year.

The skittishness among American tourists is also rippling overseas.

The number of Americans in Britain declined slightly last year, according to the government-funded Visit Britain.

France is seeing a similar trend. About 12% fewer Americans visited the country in January and February of this year versus the same period in 2007, Christine de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, a top official at the Paris Office of Tourism and Trade, told the AP.

"If you traveled a lot in the years from, say, 1996 to 2005 or so, you were constantly aware of your dollars' buying power and the economic advantage you had almost everywhere as an American," said Tom Bissell, an American writer visiting Paris. He added:

"Today, you feel like a pauper from some tiny, impoverished banana republic. You find yourself literally laughing out loud in restaurants to keep from bursting into tears."

by David Wilkening

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