|By Kimberly Pierceall, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 19, 2005 - They love the heat. They golf. They've got euros to spare and a few weeks of holiday each summer.
Still, European visitors account for about 4 percent of Coachella Valley tourists according to anecdotal evidence and past surveys from the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority.
During the summer they account for about 6 percent, said authority spokesperson Mark Graves.
"The numbers really spike," he said, attributing much of the summer growth to German tourists.
Murray Browatzke, co-owner of La Posada Resorts in Palm Springs, has noticed the seasonal preference of his European customers.
"It seems to be the hotter the better," he said.
At a panel hosted by the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism on Tuesday, six travel planners from the United Kingdom gave about 20 local hotel owners insight into their sun-seeking customers.
"They love to drive big American cars," said Ron Shilton with UK-based Quest Travel. "When Brits come over, they tend to do Yosemite -- then drive to Las Vegas."
He said there should not be any reason that Palm Springs could not be included in a road trip.
Europeans tend to travel from June through September when their children are on summer vacations, said Shilton. Many head toward the sun for their vacations, he said.
"They enjoy the heat," said Graves. And it doesn't hurt that the exchange rate continues to make trips to America an affordable venture, he said, refering to the dollar's weakness against the euro and British pound.
Until recently though, Shilton was not suggesting Palm Springs vacations to his clients.
"I would have never thought of sending anyone down here," he said. His company usually sends golfers to North and South Carolina. Shilton said other tourists tend to hit the hard-to-miss cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
On Quest Travel's Web site the company mentions of Solvang and Pismo Beach in its promotion of U.S. locations, but Palm Springs doesn't make an appearance.
Shilton said that's partly because Palm Springs has lacked a strong Internet presence.
"Internet advertising is very expensive," said Jeff Hocker, the spokesman for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. "In the past we haven't had the resources to do that," Hocker said.
This year Palm Springs appears on Orbitz and Web sites from Oprah and Martha Stewart.
Hocker said Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley have made further pushes into the British market with recent promotional trips and by hosting tours for travel planners from the United Kingdom.
"It's very strategic what we've done," he said. "We don't go into new destinations lightly."
La Posada's Browatzke and Drew Gromnicki have seen repeat business from gay Europeans who found their gay-friendly resort's Web site.
"It's a huge market for us," said Gromnicki.
The United Kingdom has 13 million Internet users and is second only to the United States for the amount of travel purchased online, according to the bureau.
Shilton suggested advertising promotions on the Yahoo! and Google search engines, which are equally popular in Europe, and sending out mass e-mails directly to United Kingdom e-mail addresses. With a stronger online marketing campaign, the smaller boutique hotels in the region could find a larger audience from individuals looking to schedule their own trips.
"Everybody would get a fair shake of the pound," said Shilton.
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