Travel: Why the British flock to Florida

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The Independent Travel
ON THE flight from London to Miami last week there was not a spare seat to be had on the entire aircraft. I suspected that things might be busy because it was the first Saturday of half-term, but a steward told me that every flight to Miami or Orlando was always jam-packed.

'It's been like this for months: everybody wants to go to Florida,' he said. He had no doubt about the reason: 'You can fly to Florida for less than a return trip to Spain or Greece.' (Indeed, seven-night flydrive packages to Miami and Orlando can cost from around pounds 199 - much less than equivalent deals to the Mediterranean).

The still-buoyant demand for Florida holidays is encouraging news for British tour operators who are terrified about how the collapse of the pound against the dollar will affect travel to the States this summer.

When tour operators planned their 1993 programmes last summer, sterling had hit the dizzying heights of nearly two dollars to the pound. There seemed every reason to suppose that the demand for American holidays would climb to new record levels. However, following sterling's exit from the ERM in September, the pound has dived spectacularly. Overnight it was assumed that America was no longer a bargain basement destination. The 25 per cent devaluation makes a substantial difference to the cost of a holiday. For example, a five-day passport to Disney World for two adults and two children which would have cost pounds 325 at last summer's exchange rates, now costs nearly pounds 450. Overall, however, the price difference is not as alarming as you might have thought. Because the cost of living in America is so much cheaper than in Britain, even after a 25 per cent increase in prices, America can still seem a bargain.

Even at dollars 1.40 to the pound, you can buy 12 gallons of petrol for pounds 9. Food prices continue to be astonishingly low: three large grapefruit, for example, cost just 70p; a bottle of Californian Grenache wine can be had for pounds 2.50; a family of four can fill themselves with pizza for pounds 5.50. Disney may be pricey, but there are plenty of less expensive entertainments.

But to assume that the British have visited America in large numbers because prices are cheap is to underestimate the country's broad appeal. The British love Florida not just because of Disney and the other theme parks, but because it offers sophistication light years beyond the Mediterranean.

From around pounds 450 a week you can rent a detached three-bedroomed house with pool, air conditioning, dishwasher, washing machine, cable TV and other luxuries you only dream of on the Costa Brava. You can shop at outrageously well-stocked supermarkets, see films six months before release in the UK, eat out for less than the cost of eating at home in Britain - not to mention enjoying perfect weather (outside the hurricane season). Even if the pound had been devalued by 50 per cent against the dollar, there would be still probably be a million Britons who would consider America very good value.