U.S. TOURIST LOCALES FEEL PINCH

By Published on .

World Cup soccer is expected to boost international travel to the U.S. to record levels again this year. But there's a pall over the industry following last year's highly publicized slayings of foreign travelers.

More than 47.9 million international travelers are expected to visit the U.S. in 1994, up 5% from 1993's record 45.6 million, according to the U.S. Travel & Tourism Administration. That figure includes an expected 1.3 million visitors headed for World Cup matches in nine U.S. cities in June and July.

However, crime and violence appear to be lingering concerns for visitors to the U.S. from its three largest overseas markets-the U.K., Germany and Japan. That's not surprising, given the accidental killing of a Japanese foreign exchange student by a Louisiana homeowner, and the slayings of two Germans and one British tourist in Florida. The worry persists despite travel safety education efforts by the American Hotel & Motel Association, AAA Travel Related Services, American Association of Retired Persons and World Tourism Organization, as well as state travel offices.

"Safety and security is a major concern for international travelers and a reason for slower growth," said Ron Erdmann, USTTA acting director-research office.

"The poor Japanese economy is the major factor hurting our business, but yes, people are worried about their personal safety," said Shozo Narita, manager-marketing department at Japan Travel Bureau International in Japan.

Japanese defections would particularly harm California, the No. 1 mainland market for Japanese tourists, with more than 800,000 annual visitors. Any lingering effects of the 1992 Los Angeles riots were only compounded by earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters that followed. After arriving in Los Angeles, more Japanese tour groups seem to be leaving the area and spending more time at other destinations, like Arizona and Nevada, said Lisa Weigt, trade marketing specialist-North America and Japan at the Arizona Office of Tourism.

But it's Florida that seems to be taking the biggest hit. Instead of seeking out other U.S. beach destinations, European travelers appear to be staying closer to home-favoring beaches in Europe, especially Spain, local tour operators say.

"Bookings to Florida-for repeaters and first-time visitors-are very, very poor," said Klaus Uhlmann, VP-international travel at DER, a major German tour operator. "Travel is down 40% to Florida at my company and other tour operators" despite an abundance of discount travel packages that are available.

"The violence in Florida is affecting the whole state, and it is having a much longer effect than expected," said John Standley, sales and marketing director at Jetsave, London. "Business to Florida is off 20% to 40%. If they do not go to Florida, they go to Spain or take a European beach vacation."

A downturn in first-time international visits to Florida is bad news for other U.S. destinations as well, since they often see international travelers when they make repeat visits to the States.

The decline in Florida "is a long-term concern for Arizona," said Ms. Weigt of the Arizona Office of Tourism. "If the international traveler does not go to Florida on that first visit, then they'll never get to Arizona on that third or fourth visit."

The Florida Division of Tourism transferred $250,000 originally earmarked for summer advertising to a winter season account out of concern that international travel would be down, said Robert Lawrence, senior VP at Fahlgren Benito, Tampa, agency for the tourism organization.

Because of concern about adverse publicity over crime, the state last spring also began a $1.5 million campaign on spot TV and CNN International in Canada, Germany and the U.K. for its "One Florida. Many faces" campaign. Trade and consumer print also support.

Florida did not move money from its domestic ad budget to international because crime also was a concern in the U.S.

"If we did not have the crime, we would have put more in internationally, but we decided to protect our home base," Mr. Lawrence said. Overall, Florida spends about $6.7 million in advertising.

Overall, the number of visitors to Florida is up 2% to 37.8 million through November 1993, vs. a year earlier, largely due to increased tourism from Latin America. However, the numbers are down from the state's usual 3% to 5% increases, according to the tourism division.

In this article:
Most Popular