This is a great time for Americans to travel internationally. A host of factors have come together to make the prospect more affordable: the American economy is showing real strength, the dollar has greater buying power compared to almost all worldwide currencies, and hotel prices overseas are down, sometimes significantly.
TripAdvisor recently released its survey of 2015 hotel room prices showing an average 7 percent decline overseas overall — and an even bigger drop of 9 percent in Europe. That decline came from a combination of better currency exchange rates for Americans using dollars and lower rates set by hotel owners.
TripAdvisor found hotel nightly booking prices down almost 13 percent in France, almost 11 percent in Germany, and more than 8 percent in Spain and Italy compared with 2014. There are surprising deals, too, in Sweden and Norway where hotel prices are down 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Throughout the world, in fact, from Russia to Brazil and Turkey, there are deals to be had.
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It’s not just hotels, however. The economic slowdown in Europe has led to an overall decline in prices. While prices rose slightly in Germany and France — 0.1 percent — prices were down in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and many other countries. So shoppers can find bargains in accommodations, food and local products.
Meanwhile, the stronger dollar makes the differences even bigger. The dollar is worth 21 percent more than it was a year ago against the euro.
Partly as a result, “on the leisure side, Europe is really, really hot,” said Kurt Crowl, senior vice president of Connoisseur Travel in Washington. “Iceland is very popular. Extremely popular. … It’s new and different and for somebody who’s done Europe, it’s an alternative to that.”
The dollar has also gained buying power against countries that don’t use the euro. The dollar is up 79 percent against the Russian ruble over the past year. And Ukrainian officials are concerned that unrest has driven the value of the local currency so low that the dollar is worth three times as many hryvni as it was last year.
Across Scandinavia, the dollar is up 29 percent against the Swedish krona, 25 percent against the Norwegian krone and 21 percent against the Danish krone. TripAdvisor found hotel prices in Sweden, Norway and Denmark down 19 percent, 17 percent and 11 percent this year.
The pattern is slightly different in Asia.
After taking heat over keeping its currency artificially low to boost manufacturing exports, China began raising the value of the renminbi a decade ago. The dollar has lost more than 24 percent of its value since 2005.
Japanese yen, on the other hand, has been up and down. The yen had been strong in recent years, but Japan let the value slip, slightly improving American buying power there.
TripAdvisor found Japanese hotel prices only down less than 1 percent this year, while Chinese rooms were down 5 percent.
Travel agents, though, said the changes are not attracting as many visitors.
“Asia is not as strong as it used to be, for whatever reason, for us,” Crowl said. “China is not as popular as it was a few years ago.”
Over the long term, the dollar has gained 42 percent against the Indian rupee over the past decade. The two currencies have held the same value over the past year.
“As the dollar is very strong in India, for the people traveling, their purchasing power is more,” said Laxmi Chand, owner of Worldwide Travel Inc. “A lot of people taking advantage of that.”
The appeal of South America has been better prices — rooms rates down 12 percent in Brazil, 10 percent in Colombia — but also greater stability. The dollar has gained strength against the local currencies there.
“The thing about South America — it’s safe finally, compared to other parts of the world. It’s more approachable now for people,” Crowl said.
Travelers have been surprised, however, that the strong dollar and worldwide drop in oil prices have not reduced airfares or cruise costs, the agents said.
“Clients ask when are we going to see airfares decline because of the lower cost of crude, and I say you’re not going to see it. Carriers will enhance marketing and infrastructure and pay down debt,” said Denny Lewis, owner of World Travel Service. “They’re certainly not going to drop fares down.”
Lewis and other agents also said that many kinds of travel do not have cost savings from the strong dollar. Any package trips marketed to Americans are already priced in dollars with prices set for the year, so fluctuations in the exchange rate do not change the price. The same is true for hotel packages or hotels purchased through consolidators that use a worldwide market already based on dollar prices.
Hotel prices abroad
Top 10 biggest hotel price declines: Country, average hotel room price a night, decline from last year:
Russia, $80, -45 percent
Ukraine, $71, -38 percent
Sweden, $151, -19 percent
Norway, $173, -17 percent
Poland, $67, -15 percent
Romania, $65, -16 percent
Bulgaria, $64, -14 percent
France, $109, -13 percent
Morocco, $106, -12 percent
Uruguay, $131, -12 percent