Although tourists and business travelers are still regularly boarding flights for Milan, Paris and London, the continued weakness of the dollar means they're suffering sticker shock once they land. Most have begun pinching pennies, especially when it comes to shopping and the little extras that make a trip special.
"Eighteen months ago, U.S. visitors were the biggest luxury spenders in London," said Jamie Talmage, a business analyst for Visit London, the organization that promotes tourism in the English capital, and tracks visitor trends. Now, they're lagging behind tourists from the Middle East, Russia, Nigeria and Canada — basically anyone with oil money. They're still coming, but they're cutting back on shopping, buying fewer souvenirs."
John Oliboni, who owns a souvenir stall near Piccadilly, agreed. "I've seen a lot less Americans this year, because the exchange rate is so high," he said.
But it's not just souvenirs they're cutting out.
"Do not, under any circumstances, go out to dinner in London," said one tourist who visited the city during Thanksgiving break. "The prices are ridiculous. Now is not the time to visit London — unless you have family there, or you're a hard-core traveler who can't stay away."
And while they may still be traveling to London, the number of American tourists is declining: In the first six months of 2007, the number of U.S. visitors dropped to 1.1 million from 1.2 million in the corresponding period last year.
But it's not only London where the Americans are feeling the pinch. Hoteliers in Milan said their clients are cutting corners for the first time in recent history.
"Guests from the U.S. have changed their habits and pay more attention to fares and prices. They've also begun asking for special offers — which they have never done before," said a spokesman for the Principe di Savoia, one of Milan's top hotels.
The Four Seasons is reporting similarly frugal behavior. Business travelers, who are usually more immune to prices because of their expense accounts, have even started cutting corners.