Passengers Travelling Abroad Fewer in Number This Season than In 1920 (1921)
Tourist Class Better Represented Offsetting Losses in Bookings of Commercial Representatives—Accommodations on Larger Vessels in Demand—Scandinavian Lines nearest Pre-War Level.
While the passenger agents of the various transatlantic steamship companies admit that the total volume of passenger traffic will probably not equal the 1920 figure, they are nevertheless optimistic over the outlook. They point out that, despite the prevailing high rates and the general business depression throughout the United States, tourist travel to Europe during the present season promises to be well in advance of that of last year even though it will fall far below the pre-war level.
Last year’s volume of traffic, and the circumstances attending it, does not afford a normal basis for comparison, it is declared. A rush for cabin reservations followed the lifting of passport restrictions in January 1920. With a relatively limited amount of liner tonnage in operation, the demand for accommodations was such as to give the impression of a wholesale exodus to Europe. The crowds that besieged the steamship offices consisted mostly of businessmen, who had not been able to get across in five years.
Business calls were so urgent as to cause those who could not get first class passages to accept gladly cheaper accommodations, while money was so plentiful as to enable those who normally would travel third class to go second or even first class if. the cheaper quarters were over crowded. The result was that all classes of sailings were booked to full capacity.
The number of passenger vessels in operation was much below normal, as a number of the large liners had either to be reconditioned or were engaged either in the repatriation of troops or in some other war service, which prevented them from re-entering the transatlantic passenger service until late in the season. The effect of submarine sinkings was still felt too, and accounted in part for the scarcity of available vessels.
By way of contrast with 1920 when the number of tourists going abroad was almost negligible, business travel this year is at a low ebb. Very few buyers are going abroad, on account of the unfavorable exchange situation and the poor business outlook. On the other hand, tourist traffic shows an encouraging growth.
Hard times and high rates are not without their visible effect, however. The “school teacher” type of tourist —the person whose trip to Europe was only possible as a result of years of saving—will largely be absent from the transatlantic liners this year. With rates on some lines three times as high as they were before the war, the person who goes to Europe once in a lifetime must forego the trip until such time as lower rates prevail.
Tourist travel in the present season will be made up largely of representatives of the relatively wealthy classes, and there is consequently a tendency to secure passage on the larger liners, whose accommodations are such as to offer the maximum amount of comfort in ocean travel.
The smaller vessels of all the large companies plying between American and British ports show relatively meager passenger lists. Indeed, the traffic outlook is such that the International Mercantile Marine intends to keep the St. Paul, the New York and the Philadelphia of the American Line tied up. However, officials of the I. M. M. are hopeful that passenger traffic will revive sufficiently during the summer to warrant these vessels being placed in service for a limited period later on.
With twice as many vessels in operation, and with the prospect of freedom from the labor troubles, which hampered its operations in 1920, the French Line expects to do a larger volume of passenger business this season than last year and to increase its volume of tourist travel by at least fifty per cent. Ten passenger carriers will be in operation in the course of the season, among them the new steamship Paris of 32,000 tons.
Lines plying to Italian ports expect a satisfactory volume of business, although reservations are being made somewhat more slowly than last year. It is pointed out, however, that transatlantic service between American and Italian ports is still much curtailed, as the Mediterranean services of the Hamburg-American and the North German Lloyd lines have not been replaced to any real extent. The increased severity of quarantine inspection at American ports is retarding sailings, and with the prospect of a reduced schedule, it is probable that available accommodations will be well taken throughout the season.
The effect of the war is least evident on the Scandinavian lanes of travel. Tourist agencies declare that the large and more or less steady tourist traffic to Norway, Sweden and Denmark is in reality a class of travel by itself. The large Scandinavian population of the United States has strong family ties with the mother countries.
Regular return visits are frequent, and are increasing in number with the growth of prosperity among Americans of Scandinavian birth or descent. There is a growing tendency of late to organize travel societies whose members return to Europe in a party to visit a common birthplace.
Without a single exception passenger agents of the various lines admit that the present high rates are an obstacle to the revival of tourist traffic on anything like its pre-war scale. Most of them look for a reduction in rates next year, although none will venture to predict the extent of the decrease.
White Star Line officials point out that the cost of operating a vessel of the Baltic type is still three times as great as in 1914, while rates are only two and one-half times as large as those demanded in 1914. Minor changes in transatlantic passenger rates have as yet been in an upward direction. Another year should witness a marked change in this respect.
Fuel costs are decidedly lower than a short time ago and other operating expenses are on the downgrade. Much new tonnage started since the armistice is to be completed before another summer rolls around and more of the large German liners now lying idle will probably be in service. It is a fair assumption therefore that transatlantic passenger rates will hereafter display a downward tendency.
"Passengers Travelling Abroad Fewer In Number This Season Than In 1920," in The Nautical Gazette: An International Weekly Chronicle of Shipping, Volume 100, No. 14, Whole No. 2589, New York, Saturday, 2 April 1921: P. 431 & 468.