Is tourism in winter only holidays in ski resorts and snow – related activities, or is it a segment that has many things to offer in the tourism industry? The holiday season is about to end with the images of the sun, beaches and cocktails in beautiful exotic islands to be still in our mind but a winter full of promises is ahead.
The end of the summer season doesn’t mean that holidays are over and many destinations are preparing to welcome the tourists during the winter period. The competition is high especially in the markets that concentrate millions of tourists every year in the winter period.
US, Canada and many European countries are again in the pole position of the race with great preparations to be already under way for the coming season.
However, a big issue for this winter is the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) in January 2007 which will have an impact to the tourism operations between the USA and Canada. These two countries attract many visitors in the winter period in international level and the revenues from the mutual exchange of visitors between Canada and US are huge.
According to many tourism authorities and organizations across US and Canada the WTHI will impact the tourist arrivals and tourism expenditures this winter between the two countries specifically in day visits (reports indicating a less impact on air travel) and the tourism industry is trying to find solutions to this problem.
The main concern within the industry is the impact of the proposed WHTI on travel between the USA and Canada, in both directions. However, some in the industry believe that it may be good for Europe, as Americans might well be tempted to travel further afield if they have to obtain a passport, anyway, for all foreign travel.
In response to strong opposition from the Canadian and Mexican governments, a cheaper passport-substitute document, the PASS Card (People Access Security Service) is now being considered for US citizens’ travel to Canada and Mexico, as long as they return to the USA by land border crossings.
On the other hand, Europe will star this year as forecasts are showing increase in international arrivals in the Scandinavian countries and in central Europe (Switzerland, Austria and France). Within the European Continent, many travellers will head to colder countries in the traditional ski resorts in the Alps as well as in the Lapland, Finland.
A new intention of the tourism authorities in Europe and US is to include other segments of the tourism industry to the traditional products offered during the winter period.
According to Michele McKenzie, President and CEO of Canada Tourism Commission “Experiential travel products like language-learning holidays; aboriginal cultural experiences and culinary cooking schools are popular activities. Weekend resort get-aways for spa vacations combined with outdoor winter pursuits are in demand as well. And, we can’t forget the festive season in North America with special events.”
Travel agencies and tour operators in US and Europe are well aware of this new trend and they are willing to offer combination of travel products. The traditional packages of holidays in ski resorts now is sliding with Santa Claus sledge in Lapland and at the same time join the local communities’ festivities and rituals. Moreover, destinations in US, Canada and Europe are trying to benefit from the MICE sector by combining conferences and meetings with winter vacations and attractions.
Moderate growth is expected to continue for the winter period 2006-2007 in tourist arrivals and expenditures. Asia, Latin America and domestic travel will contribute to Canada’s growth this season according to forecasts with Europe to remain steady. The WTHI will impact travel from US with evident weakness.
The US Tour Operators Association (USTOA) claims that 2005 was a record year for outbound leisure travel to Europe, yet preliminary data from the Office of Travel & Tourism Industries (OTTI) in the US Department of Commerce points to just
12.4 million trips to Europe – up 2% over 2004, but still well below 2000’s peak.
However, the best performing sub-region is Central / East Eastern Europe – the most fashionable part of Europe today for American travellers, to quote the USTOA.
However the weakening of the US dollar, which has so far only had a modest impact is of major concern. According to Global Insight’s forecast presented at the 2005 Pisa Forum, the euro is forecast to gain significantly against the US currency in 2006 and 2007 and demand for outbound travel by Americans tends to track exchange rate fluctuations very closely, albeit with a clear time lag.
Arrivals from Canada in 2005 reached a 2.6% increase during the winter months with total arrivals marking a 7.3% increase. The forecast for tourists’ arrivals from the European continent and Canada in 2006 is a moderate increase.
Central / East European markets offer growth prospects
In contrast with Western Europe, many markets in Central Europe (as distinct from the Commonwealth of Independent States in Eastern Europe) are growing much more robustly, with real GDP growth rates in the 4-6% range. The risks of an interruption to growth are, of course, higher (Hungary seems particularly vulnerable in 2006), but this more rapid economic growth is underpinning the emergence of these countries as significant tourism sources within the EU. Meanwhile, Russia is also expected to continue to grow relatively rapidly, with real GDP increasing by close to 6.0% in 2006.