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Friday, July 11, 2014

Go to China before its currency goes up


Recent weeks have seen important newspaper headlines that have a direct bearing on travel. Of most significance was an announce-ment by the central bank of China that it would reverse course and permit that nation's currency — the Yuan — to gradually increase in value. Although, a day later, it issued a supplementary statement that the increase would be modest and over a long period of time, it was nonetheless obvious that China was at last giving in to pressure from the world community to no longer maintain an artificially low exchange rate.

That rate — approximately 6.82 yuan to the dollar — is what enables Walmart to sell Chinese-made clothing for low, low prices, and also permits companies like ChinaFocusTravel.com to sell 10-day all-inclusive tours (hotels, meals, drinks, transportation, escorted sightseeing, some evening entertainment) to five Chinese cities, including round-trip trans-Pacific airfare, for a total of $1,499 from the West Coast (San Francisco) in high season (and for less in late fall and winter).

Such a price, as I have written earlier, is the lowest in travel for a tour of such length and features to such a remote destination. It's clear that only the artificially low value of the Chinese currency permits companies to sell China travel so cheaply. And now this situation is about to change — which means that you should rush to take such a trip before the Chinese currency goes zooming upward.

The second big news event in travel was the extraordinary initial success enjoyed by the late-June opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla. Lines the first day required a six-hour wait simply to get inside that area of the park. Once inside, there were additional lines a half-hour long for entering a cafe to drink a "Butterbeer," Harry's favorite beverage, or to buy a magic wand that lights up at one end.

It is reported that officials of Universal Studios were themselves among the most astonished of all observers at the degree of success that Harry Potter achieved, much of which is due to the careful supervision of J.K. Rowling, the series' author, who demanded that every element of the new area of the theme park be kept aligned and authentic to the original story.

The ride that visitors to the new park are strapped into a seat to take, called "Harry Potter: The Forbidden Journey," has been called one of the most fascinating in theme-park history.

But since none of us wants to stand in line for six hours, it appears advisable to put off your own visit until after Labor Day, when family participants will greatly diminish in number. In the meantime, I would hate to be an official of the Walt Disney Co., compelled to compete with Harry Potter.

The third big piece of news: the recent decision by American Airlines to offer early boarding of airplanes to people paying $9 to $19 for the privilege.

This one puzzled me greatly. Since customers of American Airlines already receive specific seat assignments, what advantage do they gain from boarding early, other than the availability of overhead racks for the luggage they carry onboard? Is that worth $9 to $19 per person? I wish someone would explain this strange new marketing tactic.

The final news: a settlement of the issues that led to the strike of Spirit Airlines' 400-some-odd pilots, and the resumption of flights by Spirit. If, as is reported by some, Spirit's pilots will henceforth earn wages similar to those of pilots at other airlines, will Spirit be able to continue offering rock-bottom fares, much lower than most other airlines charge?

And if those airfares are soon to increase (we'll quickly know), will Spirit need to change its current policy of rudeness to its passengers?

Stay tuned.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program "The Travel Show" with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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