Buoyed by the strength of the U.S. dollar and additional airline capacity on the North Atlantic, the summer season was hot: a record 1.74 million Americans crossed the Atlantic in June, up nearly 8% from the same month last year, according to the European Travel Commission’s Trans-Atlantic Report. And the steady stream is expected to continue.
“It looks like this will be a record peak season for U.S. travel to Europe,” said Neil Martin, of Donald N. Martin & Company, which represents the ETC in the United States. “The momentum should continue into this fall, in part because air fares are going down,” with prices on some routes like New York-London down nearly 20% from the same period in 2014.
While air fares rose earlier this year, with peak season fares of nearly $2,000 roundtrip in some markets, “the fares are a relatively small part of the picture,” Martin said. Lodging, meals, and other costs are more attractive, and “when it comes to hotels you have a lot more choices now,” with new types of accommodations like apartment rentals added to the mix.
Agents specializing in European itineraries also saw their business flourish this year.
“My Europe business is definitely very strong this year,” said Diana Hechler, president of D Tours Travel in Larchmont, NY, and bookings for the fall and beyond are looking good. While Italy is a perennial best seller with her clientele, she’s also recently booked trips to Ireland, France, Scotland, and Spain.
Some clients, in fact, may have been put off by the cost of air travel a few months ago, she noted. “People were shocked. I was hearing reactions like, ‘$1,800 for a coach seat to Italy – really?’ People who were thinking of taking the whole family along had a rude awakening.”
But air fares are dropping sharply this fall, said Marzia Bortolin, an official of the Italian Tourist Board based in New York. With fares like Alitalia’s $800 roundtrip fares from the U.S. to Rome. “We’re seeing Americans everywhere.”
Troubles in the news—from Greek bank closings to dry rivers to immigrants at the train stations—have some individual countries experiencing declines in bookings recently. But tourism stalwarts like Great Britain are doing well this year, with North American visits to the U.K. up 15% in June.
The U.K. is also a strong offseason draw, said ETC’s Martin, noting that increased competition from newer players like Norwegian Air have pushed New York-London fall fares to their lowest level since 2011, with discounted roundtrip fares of $781.
The airlines lately have been boosting capacity on the North Atlantic, which is up nearly 3% this summer, encouraged by low fuel prices. One result is that planes are less crowded than they were two years ago, when load factors on transatlantic flights hit a knee-knocking 90%, versus 87% this year.
The ETC promotes tourism to 33 member countries, including EU states plus non-EU nations such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey.