Travel International

Times Travel Editor

There may never be a better year for Americans to travel overseas.

Or a busier one.

This opinion was expressed by scores of industry figures this week in a nationwide poll by The Times' Travel Section. As forecast in 1984, they predict another bullish year for international travel.

The explanation is simple: A strong dollar is expected to lure U.S. visitors to every continent on Earth during 1985. Europe in particular is being targeted by Americans. Already hotels across the Continent report heavy bookings. Some are full into the fall months.

The boom in travel extends around the world--to the South Seas, South America, Africa and Asia as well as Europe.

So while the strong dollar indicates huge bargains for Americans, the major obstacle will be crowded conditions, particularly in Europe.

One industry leader repeated his forecast of a year ago: The "sold out" sign almost certainly will appear in many European destinations by early summer.

Other industry leaders made these points:

--South America is experiencing a comeback, particularly Brazil, Peru and Equador.

--Canada can expect heavier traffic from the United States due to Heritage '85, which is being celebrated nationwide this year.

--Mexico, despite its recent adverse publicity, is looking for 5 million visitors and will be competing with Hawaii for the tourist dollar. (Area director Alberto Abdo of the Mexican Government Tourism Office said the number of foreign visitors to his country increased in 1984 by 27%).

--More and more Americans will be combining visits to China with trips to other countries in the Orient.

--The South Pacific will boom (especially Tahiti, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand).

--Cruising from the West Coast is expected to break all previous records in 1985.

--Movement to the Caribbean will be on the increase.

In New York, Eric Friedheim, publisher of Travel Agent Magazine, told The Times that Europe will be overrun by tourists even if the dollar weakens.

"Thousands of travelers have already paid for their trips," he said. "They are ready to go."

Friedheim reminded an interviewer that many Americans will visit Europe merely to take advantage of shopping bargains. Only last winter London's leading department store, Harrods, placed ads in the U.S. advising Americans that they could pay for their trips with the dollars saved on shopping sprees.

Low-Cost Packages

Besides the strong U.S. dollar, Friedheim attributes the European travel boom to lower air fares as well as dozens of low-cost travel packages.

"Americans," he said, "should have confirmed hotel reservations in Europe before leaving home. They probably won't sleep in the streets, but getting a room will be difficult."

This will extend even into the fall, Friedheim forecasts.

James Murphy, president of Brendan Tours, told of a two-week journey through Ireland during peak months that includes first-class hotels, most meals, sightseeing and entertainment for $728, which is $60 under the figure for 1983.

The same company is spotlighting a 10-day tour that takes in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg and France for $448, and a 14-day escorted tour of Yugoslavia for $588. In both cases, air fare is extra.

At the low end of the scale, Brendan is promoting B&B; tours of Britain for $29 a day that include a car. Another package features five nights in a hotel on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland with breakfast and dinner for $240.

Weeklong Tour of England

Meanwhile, Arthur Frommer has produced a one-week tour of England for $1,229 with round-trip airfare from Los Angeles.

For travelers starting early, CIF Tours International is bannering a one-week Ireland self-drive package for only $99. The offer, good until mid-April, features a car with unlimited mileage and accommodations in country homes and farmhouses.

Mexico tour operator Richard Gaona is promoting a one-week trip with air fare to Mazatlan for $410.

Another company, Euro Asia Express, is selling eight-day trips to Hong Kong for $635.

And both Wrightway and Ipanema Tours are providing seven-day land packages in Rio for under $200.

Other attractive packages:

--A tour of Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland (15 days) for $698.

--A 20-day swing through England, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and Greece for $1,148.

--An eight-day London Theater week, $259.

--A four-day Rhine cruise, $400.

--Seventeen days featuring Spain and Morocco, $798.

Sunbeam Tours of Costa Mesa is booking a 20-day New Zealand/Australia tour that prices out to $1,949, including airfare and free home pickup.

One of the season's thriftier buys is a 15-day tour of Spain/Portugal offered by Singleworld that takes in Lisbon, the Algarve, Seville, Torremolinos, Granada, Toledo and Madrid for $535.

Bargain-Basement Prices

Cosmos has leaped headlong into the bargain basement with Europe tours averaging as little as $30 a day for hotels, most meals and sightseeing. Its "Taste of Britain Tours" is pegged at $296 for nine days, and Cosmos is featuring an 11-day spin across the Continent with a Rhine cruise thrown in for $338.

A Cosmos bonus: The company guarantees to break the singles snafu by booking lone travelers with one another.

Meanwhile, Jet Trek Tours has produced a 13-day tour of Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong for $979.

Japan is anticipating a record turnout with the unveiling this month of its Expo '85 World's Fair in Tsukuba, the nation's so-called "science city" about 40 miles outside of Tokyo. The $600-million exhibition, which runs through Sept. 16, is expected to attract 20 million visitors. The focal point: an eight-story-high TV screen costing $17 million that is visible for miles beyond the fairgrounds.

The theme of the fair involves futuristic electronics products being produced by Japan and other industrialized nations.

Meanwhile other nations in Asia report big increases, with Thailand alone betting on a 20% hike in tourism over 1984 and Korea figuring on a 10% increase.

It is also the year that Europe is observing the tricentennial of the birth of composers Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, with musical programs being planned across the Continent.

VE Day Observances

Ex-servicemen will be returing to Europe for the 40th anniversary (May 8) of VE day. Observances will be conducted both in Britain and on the Continent.

Moving briskly into China will be Lindblad Travel with three cruise ships on the Yangtze River. Each will carry from 36 to 70 passengers. The minimum price for a 21-day tour is $2,995 per person, double occupancy. In the fall Lindblad will sail to Polynesia and Micronesia, and in December is scheduling a cruise to Antarctica.

Cruise lines, airlines and tour operators are locked in a struggle for the dollar that promises the greatest array of bargain holidays yet announced by an industry that's fired up with competition.

Continued price wars seem a certainty among the airlines, while cruise lines will continue to offer free and discounted air fares to ports of embarkation. Three new liners made their debut on the West Coast in 1984: Princess Cruises' Royal Princess, Sitmar's Fairsky and Holland America's Noordam. With the new ships joining the lineup, cruise lines this year will be competing vigorously for passengers as hundreds of cabins become available on sailings from the West Coast.

Conservative Forecast

While most industry leaders believe that international travel will outdistance figures set last year, some conservatives feel that '85 could lag by a small percentage point.

Michael Alford, of Alford Leisure Enterprises, is predicting that '85 will be "nearly as good as last year."

"Certainly, traffic to Europe will be very strong," he told The Times, adding that the "biggest draw will be the United Kingdom" where the pound is nearly on a par with the dollar. As a result, Americans already are arriving for tours that extend north all the way to Scotland and Wales.

Looking to South America, Marco Pinto of Ipanema Tours told The Times that his company is offering a one-week land package for $198 that includes hotels, transfers, sightseeing and breakfast daily. Meanwhile, Delmo Moura of Wrightway Tours announced another seven-day package in Rio for $176. In both cases, the air fare from Los Angeles figures out to $873.

High on the popularity list this year among travelers to South America are the Galapagos. Ipanema's Pinto strongly suggests that travelers book trips early if they intend to visit these islands.

"The load factor on both ships serving the Galapagos has been exceptionally high," he said.

Domestically, Hawaii is enjoying what promises to be another record year. Ed Hogan, president of Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, said that in January alone his business shot up 47%.

"We had to stop selling because we ran out of hotel rooms, and I own five hotels myself," Hogan said.

'Fantastic' Year for Hawaii

As the biggest tour operator to the islands, Pleasant Hawaiian booked more than 300,000 tourists in 1984. Hogan declares that 1985 "looks absolutely fantastic."

His best buy: a $374 package that includes airfare, seven nights in Waikiki, a flower greeting and a memory album.

For 1984, Hawaii recorded 4,800,000 visitors; this year it figures to top the 5-million mark.

Like Hawaii, the Caribbean is doing well, with Puerto Rico, St. Martin and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands reporting considerable gains.

Closer to home, Conner Tours is promoting a rail package from Vancouver through the Canadian Rockies to Toronto, Ottowa, Quebec City and Montreal, a total of 15 days for $1,569, using all first-class hotels.

Finally, scaling the top of the list, Hemphill-Harris is putting together a 37-day around-the-world flight for 88 passengers on a private jet that takes in Tahiti, Australia, Hong Kong, Katmandu, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa and Turkey for $22,000 per person.

If all this sounds extravagant, listen to this:

In Sri Lanka Hemphill-Harris is hiring 2,000 dancers and rounding up 100 elephants for a private performance for the 88 guests; in South Africa the company has chartered the Blue Train exclusively for the tour party; there will be greetings from the royal family in Nepal and a banquet with the Maharani of Jaipur. Besides this, there's a Nile cruise complete with belly dancers.

"It's a deal," says Ron Harris, "a real deal."

Anyone happen to have a spare $22,000 lying around the house?

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