Gillian Barnes began packing for her first visit to Europe last week—a 21-day bus tour of Italy that she had originally planned to take last year. The 74-year-old widow from Columbia, Md., said that she cancelled her 1986 air and tour reservations for safety reasons. She added that she was concerned about being caught in retaliatory terrorist attacks after U.S. warplanes bombed Libya in April, 1986. Many other U.S. citizens—and, to a lesser extent, Canadian travellers— made similar decisions last year. But concerns about terrorist attacks—and the health hazards posed by radiation from the damaged Soviet reactor at Chernobyl—have receded, and North Americans are returning to Europe in near-record numbers. Declared Barnes, a former secretary who plans to tour Italy with a group of senior citizens: “Things seem back to normal now. And when you get to our age, you cannot keep putting things off.”
Certainly, 1986 figures show that Canadian travellers were much less concerned about being injured or killed in terrorist attacks in Europe than their U.S. counterparts. Statistics Canada officials note that 1,132,000 Canadians visited Europe that year—only 103,000 fewer than the number who went to the continent in 1985 when Eu-
rope was enjoying a boom year in tourism. By contrast, only 5.1 million U.S. citizens travelled to the continent last year—a 22-per-cent drop from the 6.4 million who did so in 1985. Declared Patrick Dineen, the editor of Canadian Travel Courier, a Toronto-based travel industry magazine: “Canadians do not have the same fears abroad as Americans—they don’t feel like targets.” But even many veteran travellers will receive a financial shock upon arrival in such popular destinations as Britain and France. That is because the U.S. and Canadian dollars have declined in value against most Western European currencies since 1985—causing a 50per-cent rise in the price of a London or Paris holiday. Now, U.S. tourists must tender $1.63 for each pound note they receive—with Canadians paying $2.16 for a similar exchange. At one point in 1985 the pound and the U.S. dollar were almost at par.
As a result, a single room at the fashionable Ritz Hotel in central London now costs $290 per day—up from 1985 rates of around $230. And even travellers who choose more moderately priced hotels in the suburbs of the British capital will still find that lodging expenses have climbed steeply. For one, the Richmond Gate Hotel, a Surrey establishment that is a 25-minute
subway ride from central London, now charges $130 for a single room (including breakfast) that rented for $97 in 1985. Still, British authorities say that they are expecting 600,000 Canadians and 2.5 million U.S. visitors to visit Britain this year. And while exchange rates are no longer favorable—and prices for entertainment, food and lodging have risen—the officials argue that North American travellers can still find bargain airline fares to Britain. Indeed, British Airways officials say that they are now offering Canadians special return fares that cost $636 this month—well below the normal 1985 peak season fare price of $818.
In the same way, French, Italian and Greek officials are also forecasting increased numbers of visitors. Dimitri Delis, a branch manager for Torontobased Apollo Tours, said that the travel agency’s bookings to Greece had increased by almost 70 per cent in one year. Said Delis: “There is no propaganda, no problems in Europe, so people are travelling.” Gillian Barnes, a silver-haired American, is one of them—enlisting in a peaceful invasion that is a relief to the continent’s pinched tourist industry.
— MALCOLM GRAY in Toronto with correspondents’ reports
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