Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? Nah, just cheap shopping.


The weak dollar is luring overseas shoppers to the U.S., and the number of visitors to this country from foreign countries is the highest since 2001.

Most of the tourists are laden with shopping bags and suitcases that were empty on their arrival but full of everything from cameras to candy when they leave. The sliding dollar has made almost every item of U.S. goods and services very cheap to foreign visitors.

Most of the big cities — the likes of Chicago and New York — and popular vacation destinations, such as Disney World and other areas in Florida, are benefiting from this surge of foreign tourists, say various wire services.

Another beneficiary is closer to home — the giant Mall of America at Bloomington.

We visited MOA just before Christmas, and you could hardly move from store to store with the crowds, including hordes of foreign visitors.

Another beneficiary we noted were the fashionable shops we encountered during an October visit to Sanibel Island, offshore from Fort Myers on the western shore of Florida. That state, for years, has been a favorite destination for visitors, particularly from Europe; Disney World is always filled with foreign visitors.

The latest statistics compiled by the U.S. Commerce Department report that the number of visitors from overseas — excluding Canada and Mexico — rose 7 percent last year, to 23.2 million. However, while that figure is the highest in some time, it is still well below the 26 million who entered the U.S. in 2000, before the post-9/11 security clampdown created new inconveniences and fears for foreign travelers.

According to the New York Times, some people in the travel industry and businesses dependent on tourism say more marketing should be done to boost foreign visitor numbers even higher.

The U.S., unlike many other large industrialized countries, does not have a central tourism promotion agency to spread the word about its beaches, museums, mountains and shopping malls.

The Travel Industry Association in Washington, D.C., is lobbying for legislation that would create such an organization, but Congress has yet to act. In the meantime, individual cities and states are stepping up their own global promotional efforts.

Recently, the California Travel and Tourism Commission started advertising on television in Britain and Ireland, the first time it has run TV ads in Europe. The state plans to spend $4.5 million on the campaign this year, notes the Times.

One American destination that has continued to attract growing numbers of travelers is New York City. The number of international visitors grew to 8.5 million last year, from 7.3 million in 2006.

Another city, Las Vegas, is increasing its international marketing. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority plans to spend $8 million this year in Britain, Canada and Mexico, up from $5 million in 2007. Las Vegas expects to use its famous ad tag line, “What happens here stays here.”

Without question, says the Times, a main reason European visitors travel to the U.S. these days is to take something back.

Dollar lures Canadians

Almost overlooked in the parade of visitors to the region is a significant increase in the number of Canadian tourists — also lured by the strength of the Canadian dollar as compared to the weakness of the U.S. dollar.

Only a few years ago, the Canadian dollar was worth only 60 cents or so as compared to the U.S. dollar, but now the two currencies are virtually at par.

This change has made a lot of difference as far as vacations are concerned. We saw more-than-the usual number of Canadians while visiting Florida in fall. But in prime Caribbean vacation spots — particularly in the luxury, all-inclusive resort category — their presence was almost overwhelming.

We stayed for a week earlier this month in Jamaica at the plush Riu Resort near Ocho Rios, and the pricing there as well as elsewhere in the Caribbean is in U.S. dollars.

The number of Canadians vacationing there has almost doubled from previous years, said a resort spokesman. The reason? Virtually a half-price vacation for Canadians as compared to previous years.

“What would have cost us 6,000 Canadian dollars a few years ago was about only 3,000 now,” we were told by a member of the group. The resort, too, included a significant number of Europeans, particularly from France and Spain — the Riu resort chain is headquartered in Spain.