Originally created 12/15/03

Weakening dollar means buying power for foreign tourists in U.S.



Sylvia Camarca, a student from Italy, is used to stretching her funds when she visits New York, staying with friends and eating on the cheap at Thai restaurants and hot dog stands.

This time, as she shops for discount shoes, postcards and Yankees hats, she's noticing that her money is going even further than she thought it would.

"I just found it cheaper here than I expected," Camarca said as she walked past the Tiffany jewelry store on Fifth Avenue.

Like hundreds of thousands of other foreign tourists descending on the United States, she is benefiting from the weakening dollar. It's the other side of the coin from U.S. tourists, who are getting squeezed in their travels abroad.

In recent days, the dollar has fallen to an all-time low against the euro, an 11-year low against the pound and a three-year low against the yen amid concerns about the U.S. economy.

Some visitors have come to the United States specifically to capitalize. Linda Meyer of Sydney, Australia, said the "excellent" exchange rate motivated her long journey.

"I can afford to be here," she said while shopping for Christmas gifts at a Sephora cosmetics store in Los Angeles. "Before it was a bit out of reach."

Meyer said she found that a day at Disneyland was "a lot cheaper than a day at a theme park in Australia. You'd probably spend a hundred (Australian) dollars more," she said.

Wolfgang and Sandra Schmitt of Saarbrucken, Germany, were coming to New York regardless of the exchange rate - "It was a small dream of ours," Wolfgang said as they showed their two children the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. They were happily surprised, they said, by the rates at their hotel, a Holiday Inn 30 minutes outside the city.

Flight attendant Nadia Allen of Manchester, England, said in Chicago that her flight over was abuzz with passengers talking about their increased buying power. As for herself, the 33-year-old Allen said, "I'm going to shop more than I probably should. I'm going to shop, shop, and shop some more."

At the Quincy Market in Boston, Sheila Hutchinson, 28, of Cumbria, England, said she was staying in a nicer hotel than she would have under the old exchange rate. In addition, she said, she had picked up a pink cashmere Ann Taylor sweater for $89 that would probably have cost $150 in England.

"When you look around the shops, you think, 'That's actually a lot cheaper,"' Hutchinson said.

Katarina Della Karth of Vienna, leaving a Chicago hotel to go shopping on Michigan Avenue, said, "I was told by my bank in Vienna to go buy lots of things. It's all less expensive now."

Gary Shadbolt, a college student from England, was in Los Angeles for two days as part of his around-the-world tour. Toting a shopping bag full of clothes, he said, "It's just a lucky coincidence that I came here during a time when the UK pound is at its strongest ever."

Siegfried Klabunde, a retired policeman from Giessen, Germany, said he and his fiancee, Beate Hildebrandt, scheduled a weeklong visit to Philadelphia - with daylong excursions to New York and Washington - because of the exchange rate.

"I was very happy, very surprised to be paying $57 a night for a hotel right there in downtown Philadelphia," he said during his side trip to New York. "That's good, right? Also, the jeans we buy here are 50 percent what we pay in Germany."

On the other hand, some tourists said they hadn't noticed any good fortune. "Everything in New York is expensive," said Alessio Perrotti, a hematologist from Rome who was watching the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. He said he got a good deal on air fare, but attributed that to some connections in the industry. Everything else, he said, was more expensive than in Rome.

"We just paid $2.25 for these hot dogs," he said. "Each."

Jim Fitzgerald reported from New York. Associated Presss Don Babwin in Chicago, Martin Finucane in Boston and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.