By Thomas Wagner, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Airfares have repeatedly risen this year, the dollar has struggled against the euro, and Europe's economic crisis is still rattling financial markets. Americans planning their summer vacations could well ask what's the point of going to Europe this year?
But savvy tourists considering the continent might also be wondering if there are bargains to be had, especially in the four European countries worst hit by the economic crisis — Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Known in some circles by the derogatory acronym PIGS, these struggling nations rely heavily on tourism revenue, and they are working hard to boost this sector of their economies.
On the plus side, travel agents are seeing potential bargains in these countries in everything from airfares, hotels and restaurants, to in-country transportation and visits to key tourist sites.
The agents also regard these four nations as potentially cheaper to visit this summer than three other top tourist European destinations: Britain, France and Italy.
But even as the struggling countries reach out for tourist dollars, visitors will have to plan carefully to find bargains.
They also will have to decide whether to regard Portugal — which is engulfed by an acute financial crisis and courting bankruptcy — and Greece — where strikes against tough austerity measures can turn violent — as potential adventures or too chaotic for a vacation.
One reason bargains can be tough to find is that predicting airfares is like playing roulette these days, given the way the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, and Japan's nuclear crisis, have driven up oil prices — a key factor in airline ticket costs.
Another is that the unrest in countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt — as well as the crisis in Japan — have made the beach resorts of Spain, Portugal and Greece even more popular than usual among vacationers.