Why Did The Tourist Cross The Pond?

American travelers to Europe are starting to wonder whether it’s worth the money. European travelers to the United States continue to wonder whether it’s worth the hassle.

The problem for American travelers to Europe is the weak dollar and the buoyant euro, which can add up to staggeringly high hotel and restaurant bills. Europe on $5 A Day? Sure, if all you need is a cup of coffee. Or maybe half a cup of coffee.

Believe me, after a 16-day trip to Europe, I feel that pain.

European travelers to the United States should have the better end of that deal, with a favorable exchange rate and major buying power over here. And they do – if they can get past interminable waits and intimidating procedures to get into the country at all.

After seeing a huge flotilla of people waiting for immigration at JFK as I breezed through the U.S. passport line, I can understand why foreign travelers to the United States feel unwelcome. When I crossed into the European Union in Amsterdam last month, the wait for European Union passport holders was shorter than the wait for Americans and other foreigners – but not by much. We were through in less than 20 minutes.

So no wonder European visits to the United States and U.S. visits to Europe are both down.

The European travel industry can’t do much about the exchange rate. But there’s at least a little room to hope that slack demand will push airfares to Europe down, providing at least some relief for American tourists.

And I’m not sure, either, how much the United States can do about its immigration and visa gridlocks if security remains the dominant concern. But there are some suggestions, including a very detailed one from a travel industry trade group, about increasing staffing and streamlining procedures to get foreign visitors through screening in 30 minutes or less.

It would be great if we could manage that. Because someday, when a European cup of coffee drops below $5, I might be able to afford to go back. And I’d like to have some friends over there when I do.


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