Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



November 1, 1986 -- Europe is literally holding its breath…about the 1987 travel outlook, particularly from the United States. There’s no doubt about it—they miss us over there; not only our dollars, but us. Even the French. (Although the subsequent imposition of visitor visas for inbound Americans may cast some doubt on that proposition.) Europe’s uncertainties, anxieties and hopes are shared in spades by the travel industry in North America; and U.S. tourists are not exactly uninterested. After invading the Old World in record numbers last year, Americans stayed home in droves in 1986, deterred by such factors as terrorism, Chernobyl and a sharply weaker dollar.

Not that this year has been a total waste. Hardly. Since June the flow of individuals (as opposed to organized groups) has gathered momentum, slowly but significantly. And although I found that Americans remained conspicuous by their absence during a five-country tour last August, they were drifting back. And Europe generally was reporting a solid September and October for advance U.S. bookings.

The industry across the big pond was also buoyed by a resurgence of group reservations for the next year. Many incentive movements and other sizeable business meetings had been wiped out this year, and travel interests on both sides of the North Atlantic had been apprehensive for 1987 about this category. The cruise lines, what they perceived to be safer waters, were carefully weighing 1987 schedules in late summer.

Meanwhile, business travelers had pretty much adhered to European travel plans, although there has been a slight drop in what was anticipated. (This was borne out in the annual Frequent Flyer poll in the September issue, when readers replied to the question, "Which of the following best describes your travel plans for 1986?" Of those who replied, 22 percent said they would go but avoid some cities; 5 percent canceled all travel to Europe; and 50 percent had no plans to go this year.)

None of the above scenarios for an improving outlook are cast into concrete. The big if is terrorism. The taking of Pan American Flight 73 at Karachi reminded us that terrorists are still very much with us. There’s also little doubt that Europe has become substantially more expensive since the summer of 1985, with goods and services up at least a third. But hardly enough of an increase, I felt, to keep Americans away in meaningful numbers. That was my reaction during a quick sixteen days in which I virtually retraced my steps of the previous summer (FF November 1985). Both years’ itineraries included London, the French Riviera, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. What follows are capsule highlights and impressions form this year’s swing.

Outstanding was British Airways flight to London, and particularly good was the crew in the front cabin; also a fine dinner and even a civilized flick, Back to the Future. World chess championship under way at London’s Park Lane Hotel. Kasparov and Karpov appeared to be mired in draws, although experts said current top gun, Kasparov, blew second match. Venue marked first time two Soviet grand masters met outside Russian world title. One wag speculated most of Russian onlookers were KGB. Watched ten minutes of Game three—the excitement nearly did me in. Only movement was on large TV screens; the last piece moved flickered occasionally. I marveled at the ambiance of total quiet and concentration.

Local stores and hotels bemoan the absence of Americans. Merchants on trendy Portobello Road say the U.S. dollar is in short supply. Park Lane Hotel’s sales director, Patrick Stevenson, reports occupancy off 20-25 percent from previous summer. Shortfall chiefly American. Sees stronger showing for 1987.

Suffered through cold, rainy, misty evening with 83,000 other masochists, mostly British, at Bears-Cowboys exhibition. Wouldn’t mind slice of a National Football League franchise over there (move over, Donald Trump), with Brits going wild over U.S. football. Views at Wembley Stadium obstructed by some 40,000 good-natured standees, but everybody kept their cool; the "wave" rippled through the crowd, which cheered anything and everything. The natives did keep asking why the game progressed so slowly. Because the commercial TV breaks, that’s why. Brits obsessed with size of our players. Just like home; the gridlock going back to London after game.

London’s most interesting show, Les Miserables; opera-style adaptation of Victor Hugo tearjerker. Spectacular at times, but too long. Brilliant staging and several memorable songs. Glimmers of Jesus Christ Superstar in music, lyrics and recitative. Goes to D.C. in December, to New York next March (hopefully edited). Will travel well. I wouldn’t mind a piece of this gig, either. The Petition marginal, but worth seeing from John Mills and Rosemary Harris. Don’t play the Gambler. Instead, visit Wheeler’s on Curzon Street for the Sole Mornay. Outstanding fish house. More of Europe Revisited later.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.