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By: Lauren Sherman
Debbie Trevino, a travel agent at Naperville, Ill.-based Hobson Travel, who specializes in international luxury destinations, says that despite the weak dollar, she's still making sales.
"Luxury travel hasn't quit, but it has changed," says Trevino. "People want more value--they're looking for more inclusive, personalized, one-on-one experiences."
Travel search engine Kayak.com asked more than 3,800 of its users how the struggling U.S. economy has influenced their summer travel plans. The company found that while the economic downturn has caused an overwhelming 79% of travelers to alter their vacation plans, users still intend to get away this summer.
And even though travelers want more bang for their buck, as Trevino suggests, the good news is that they can find it--even with the dollar depreciating in value by 7.5% in the past six months. That's because several high-end destinations still have a weak currency compared with the dollar.
Airfare to Argentina, for example, is about $900 round trip from New York, but once you've landed, luxury accommodations come cheap: the Argentine peso has just one-third the value of the U.S. dollar. So a room at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires will cost you $425 on a Saturday night, while the same room in New York rings in at $950.
Phillipe Kjellgren, president of the Kiwi Collection, an online travel portal, recommends the Moreno Hotel in Buenos Aires. "It offers true pampering," he says, with amenities that include 1920s furnishings and artwork, LCD-screen televisions and a Jacuzzi in each premium suite.
The hotel, just a few blocks from main square Plaza de Mayo, is surrounded by art galleries, antique and craft fairs, museums, the flea market, tango halls, restaurants and nightclubs. And rates start at just $95 per night.
In South Africa, where the dollar is worth 7.5 South African rand, airlines are luring travelers with all-inclusive packages. South African Airways recently introduced a $1,999 package that includes roundtrip economy airfare from New York or Washington, D.C., four nights at a five-star hotel such as the Commodore Hotel in Cape Town and two nights at Jackalberry Lodge, a luxury game lodge in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. Several meals, tours, ground transfers and domestic flights within South Africa are all included.
While destinations such as these will happily welcome American tourists ready to spend weak dollars even if the currency sinks some more, the other way to travel in style is to make your plans for off-peak season.
According to Amir Inditzky, director of e-commerce for booking site LastMinuteTravel.com, the U.S. dollar still goes a long way in the Caribbean. It's no secret that, due to hurricane threats, top Caribbean resorts slash prices to nearly budget levels during the Northern hemisphere's summer and fall months. However, certain islands, such as St. Maarten, seldom experience major hurricane activity.
Regardless, because of life-threatening hurricanes each summer and fall, the majority of travelers tend to avoid the Caribbean entirely. If the weather forecast looks clear for the time period you'd like to travel, heading down South can save you money. Just buy travel insurance, in case you have to cancel at the last minute because of a storm.
The year-old, five-star Westin St. Maarten is currently offering resort-view rooms for just $149 a night between June 1 and Oct. 19. Amenities include an on-site casino, in-room massage treatments and access to a private beach.
Where did you last have a luxury vacation on the cheap? Tell us where and how you did it in the Reader Comments section below.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to avoid weak-dollar distress is to travel within the States. Many high-end destinations are offering value-added incentives to generate business, like the Ritz in Palm Beach, Fla. Fresh from $100 million in renovations, the hotel is offering discounted packages to lure family travelers. The "Family Reconnect" package includes daily breakfast for four and two full-day passes to AquaNuts (a program for children aged 5 to 12) and/or Coast (a program for teenagers). Other perks include a $50 daily resort credit to apply to any resort activity--such as a massage or golf--or to restaurants. The offer runs May 7 to Aug. 5.
Don't Count Out Europe
But even in Europe, where the dollar typically gets you very little, there are bargains to be had. L'Andana, chef Alain Ducasse's property in Maremma, Tuscany, has implemented a "guaranteed dollar-rate" program: Regardless of how low the U.S. currency goes, L'Andana will honor the rate at 1.45 euros. If the exchange rate decreases, however, so will the price.
Having a "fixed dollar" rate is becoming commonplace for hotels in places like Italy, the U.K. and France.
Nora Brossard, a spokeswoman for the European Travel Commission, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, says that European hospitality groups are advertising deals because they don't want to lose American customers for good.
"The dollar isn't going to stay weak forever," says Brossard. "Americans spend the most of any group of travelers, and these hotels want to keep Americans in their good graces until the dollar comes back."
So just because the dollar's weak right now, it's still worth its (proverbial) weight in gold in plenty of places.
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