NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- A euro collapse would be painful, but perhaps not for the travel industry and suddenly cash-flush tourists.
As news about Europe's sovereign debt crisis grows increasingly grim and the euro falls from its one-year high of $1.48 last April and May to less than $1.30, the European travel picture for this year is muddied at best. Luxury cruise lines including
Azamara are trying like mad to get their 2012 cruises filled ahead of a potential crisis, though
Chief Operating Officer Howard Frank admitted last month that his company's Carnival, Princess and Holland America cruise lines were already seeing "less demand" and "softer pricing" for European destinations primarily because of the financial uncertainty.
The International Air Transport Association, meanwhile, issued a forecast indicating that industry revenue already downgraded to $3.5 billion from $4.9 billion could turn into losses exceeding $8 billion if the eurozone crisis turns into a full-on banking crisis and recession. In a worst-case scenario, European air carriers would lose $4.4 billion while North American airlines including
would take a $1.8 billion hit. That's only worse news for an international airline industry that saw its $15.8 billion profits in 2010 evaporate to less than $7 billion last year. It wouldn't do wonders for Europe's hotel industry either.
"A euro collapse would likely lead to fewer European travelers taking vacations on the continent, which could then in turn create an excess of available hotel rooms, leading to lower prices and opportunities for fantastic deals," says Genevieve Shaw Brown, editorial director for travel site Travelocity. "However, it's important that travelers keep up to date on the current events in these countries and consider trips carefully should there be cases of civil unrest."
Ed Perkins, former editor of
Travel Letter and contributing editor for SmarterTravel, says the travel industry can only speculate about the state of the eurozone for now. Were a crisis to unfold, though, Perkins envisions a scenario akin to what occurred when a banking crisis hit Iceland in 2008. The Icelandic krona, which was valued at as much as 62 to a U.S. dollar before the crisis, slipped to nearly 130 Krona to the dollar by summer 2009. That difference now hovers around 120 Krona to the dollar, but other factors have since shored up Iceland's currency and made it far more costly for tourists to snack on late-night
hot dogs after clubbing in Reykjavik.
"It didn't take very long for dollar prices to come back up in Iceland," Perkins says. "Iceland was expensive and still is with a combination of inflation and prices to stop the tourists."
That may be the a stopgap solution for countries to consider, but consensus in the travel industry is that a collapse of the euro would lead the eurozone's shakier members to adopt a far weaker currency that would result in a deep discount for tourists. With absolutely nothing clear about the European travel picture besides an air of general pessimism, we present five countries to visit should the euro fail them:
The poster child for the sovereign debt crisis has already slogged through austerity measures, confidence votes for its leaders and a whole lot of angry citizens in the streets. Unfortunately for some elements of the travel industry, Greece represents a sizable portion of their annual business.
According to cruise industry tracking site CruiseCompete and cruise pricing site Cayole, Greece was the top luxury destination of 2011 for North American cruise lines Carnival,
and Royal Caribbean. It's also a big reason those cruise lines have been clamoring to load up the ships and cutting prices for 2012.
While a return to the drachma would likely mean deep discounts for American vacationers, it would also likely mean a whole lot of chaos in the Greek capital. Fortunately for cruising tourists, however, there's a way around that.
"It occurs to me that in a country like Greece, they're already suffering because of worries about local political and civil unrest," Perkins says. "I know at this point I would have very little interest in going to Athens and have heard other writers say that travelers going to Greece should go to the Greek islands and steer clear of Athens."
Think it couldn't happen here? Consider that underage prostitutes, "bunga bunga" sex parties and conflicts of interest surrounding his media holdings weren't enough to unseat Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had served in that capacity at multiple intervals since 1994. What finally did him in last year was about $2.6 trillion dollars in national debt and the tough-love austerity package needed to address it.
If Italy's debt crisis can end the Berlusconi era, anything is possible.
Italy was the second-most popular luxury cruise destination for North American lines last year, but its austerity measures may not be enough to prevent a collapse. Its biggest bank,
, went seeking more capital earlier this month.
That's not going to create the most ideal conditions for a Roman holiday, but any traveler who remembers traipsing the Amalfi Coast or riding the water taxis through Venice with thousands of lire in their pockets and a lovely exchange rate little more than a decade ago may get flashbacks in their not-so-distant future. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Italy was the No. 5 tourist destination in the world in 2010, drawing 43.6 million visitors when times weren't so dire. Imagine how it would fare if tourists could get lots of lire for very little.
Portugal's 2010 budget deficit was revised to 9.8% of gross domestic product from 9.1%. Its economy has grown by an average of less than 1% a year for the past decade. Last year it asked the European Union for a bailout and came sniffing around the United States for aid.
As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is cutting state salaries, increasing taxes and selling government-owned companies to comply with terms of a more than $99 billion rescue from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
Is anything going right for Portugal? Well, it's certainly getting more popular. Tourism rose 6.6% from 6.4 million visitors in 2009 to 6.9 million in 2010. That jolt helped increase tourism revenue by $400 million, from $9.6 billion to nearly $10.1 billion.
That's a lot of port wine and guitar music. For a country down on its luck, it's also one of the few growing sources of income. If the euro collapses, it'll need to depend on it more than ever.
Still unhappy with 8.6% unemployment? Spain doesn't want to hear it.
It doesn't want to hear how that number is "underreported" because it doesn't count people who left the workforce. It doesn't want to hear the breakdown by state. It just wants you to come by, rent a hotel room, have some paella and sangria, buy a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo jersey and shut it.
Spain's unemployment rate sat at 23% in November. An average of one in every four Spaniards are without a job. Many of them spent last summer filling the streets of Madrid and Plaza Cataluna in Barcelona in protest of banking policies and the prevailing economic conditions.
Amid all of this, what has been one of the lone bright spots? Tourism, and lots of it. Spain was the No. 4 tourist destination in the world in 2010, bringing in 52.7 million visitors. That's great, but Spain would still like to see more of it, as it was recently bumped from the No. 3 spot it held in 2009 and 2008 by China's 55.7 million tourists. Its numbers are also down from 2008, when 57 million travelers decided to give Spain a try.
That's also diminished the economic impact of Spain's tourism industry. Spain's $52.5 billion in tourist revenue in 2010 was second only to the $103.5 billion generated by the United States, but still down 1.2% from the $53.2 billion tourists gave the country in 2009. A euro collapse would be ominous for receipts, but it may make it easier for Spain to make up the difference on volume.
Ireland already took an $89 billion bailout from the European Union, but
chief economist, Willem Buiter, suggests that Ireland might need another international bailout by the end of the year.
Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenney feels the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF won't deem that necessary after they complete a 10-day mission to Dublin to kick the tires, while an EU spokesman insists that Ireland has made strong progress in export growth, banking sector reform, structural reform and in its general fiscal position.
Its tourism situation, however, could use a lot of help even if its economy and the euro don't collapse this year. Between 2008 and 2010, Ireland watched tourism revenue fall more than $2 billion, from $6.3 billion to little more than $4 billion. Visits on the whole were down more than 10% during that span and $450 round-trip fares between New York and Dublin offered this winter by
are just one indication of how badly Ireland wants the tourists back.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.