By Humphrey Carter
THE summer holiday season officially gets under way in the Balearics today, but it is going to be a slow start.
In the UK, summer holidays sales, in general, are 15 to 10 percent down on this time last year.
However, while the more traditional European destinations, such as Spain, are selling as well as usual right now, holiday sales to the United States are “rocketing.” Keith Betton, head of corporate affairs for the Association of British Travel Agents, said in Majorca yesterday that the primary reason for travel agents' frustration in the UK is the strength of the Euro. “There's nothing we can do about the strong Euro apart from sit it out, but while it is making people either think twice or wait before booking a Euro zone holiday, the weak dollar is attracting Britons to the States in their droves. “Britons have one holiday in the States every five years, more or less, the other four in Europe, and with the Pound so strong against the dollar, many families are heading across the Atlantic. “Perhaps they may have to pay out slightly more for the actual holiday, but they are getting more for their money once in their destination,” Betton said. “Their money is going a lot further when they go out, eat and drink etc. “In 2002, both the Euro and the dollar were 1.55 to the Pound, now the Euro is 1.4 and the dollar 1.8 and the strong Euro is obviously having an impact on family holidays,” he explained.

However, Euro 2004 football championship in Portugal next month and the August Olympics Games in Athens are also expected to affect summer holiday bookings. “Many families are holding fire until they decide whether to head for the football or not, while others will head to Greece,” said Betton.
Major European and global sporting events always affect holiday bookings. Betton also said that the late booking trend is still very popular “those who booked late last year and got a good deal are expected to do the same this year,” he said.

In the long term, holiday bookings should balance out, although an overall drop of two percent is expected in the UK. Spanish destinations, in particular the Balearics, are not expected to do any worse than last year. However, whether they do any better is a case of wait and see. “Considering bookings are well down for this time of year and the United States is still racing away, I dread to think what bookings to the States would be like if the market situation was normal,” Betton said.

He was also quick to point out that Croatia is proving hugely popular with the British, as are its neighbouring destinations such as Slovenia and Bulgaria. “One has to remember that back in 1991, when the war broke out in Yugoslavia and killed tourism to that part of the world, some 800'000 Britons were holidaying there every summer and they are returning,” he said. “But on the whole, while the United States enjoys a British boom, Euro zone holiday destinations are selling very slowly right now,” Betton added.
The strong Euro is only serving to underline the need for holiday resorts to offer value for money more than ever as the single currency fuels competition.


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