PHOENIX - Stepping off a trans-Atlantic flight, Louise Anderson of London said she’s excited that her British pounds will go a long way in the United States.
The weak dollar means visiting the U.S. is increasingly affordable for Anderson and other foreign visitors.
“We would’ve come anyway, but this has made it better,” Anderson said.
Gregory Hays, director of Arizona West Galleries in Old Town Scottsdale, said he’s delighted to see more travelers with money to spend. Sales to foreign tourists have increased sharply in the past three months, Hays said.
“They always come in and look, and they’re complimentary … but they weren’t buying anything,” Hays said. “Now they’re buying.”
Once the numbers are in for 2007, tourism officials expect a big jump in foreigners vacationing in Arizona, in large part because the dollar is at record lows versus international currencies. Last year, 1.1 million foreign tourists flew into Arizona, according to the state tourism office.
“The evidence we have in Arizona is all anecdotal, but they’ve seen strong increases in European visitors,” said Mary Rittman, director of travel industry marketing for the Arizona Office of Tourism.
State tourism officials have stepped up their advertising in key international markets, particularly Europe, where the euro is strong against the dollar and where many residents enjoy weeks of vacation time.
“Europeans love what we have to offer,” Rittman said. “They really love the wide open spaces, the sort of western culture that we don’t necessarily think of because we live here.”
Two years ago, one British pound bought $1.70. This month, it will buy $2.07. That means a British tourist who set aside 2,000 pounds for an Arizona vacation will spend $740 more than two years ago.
“You might be spending the same amount in your currency, but you’re spending more dollars,” Rittman said. “And since everything is such a good deal there’s a lot of shopping going on.”
Foreign tourists in southeastern Arizona have already doubled last year’s numbers, said Kay Daggett, director of the Sierra Vista Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There are more coming, and they’re staying for longer,” Daggett said.
In northern Arizona, one company catering to British travelers has booked twice as many tours through Flagstaff next year as it did in 2006, said Heather Ainardi, a spokeswoman for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Meanwhile, the number of Canadian visitors has more than doubled in the last five years, Rittman said.
The Canadian dollar, which has historically been low against the U.S. dollar, is now about equal, making it easy to get away from harsh Canadian winters.