Brussels, Belgium Nov. 14, 2001 (AP by Constant Brand)--A big drop in U.S. and Japanese tourists since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has badly hurt Europe's luxury tourist sector, forcing officials to come up with new campaigns to lure back foreign visitors.
A European Union report released Wednesday said the effects from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still being felt across Europe, with the 15-nation bloc seeing a 30 percent decline in American and Japanese tourists.
``The result was immediate,'' EU Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen told reporters. ``There is little we can do to remedy the immediate impact.'' He said luxury hotels, resorts and business travel were the worst hit areas.
The report said high-end hotels were reporting vacancy rates near 50 percent, while leisure parks saw a 30 percent drop in visitors, causing many companies to lay off personnel or even declare bankruptcy.
``The impact is really on the quality (tourism) sector,'' Liikanen said, without providing specific figures.
He said the attacks put many people on edge and made them fearful of either trans-Atlantic or trans-border travel by air, even though Europe remains ``a safe tourist destination.''
The EU will support new campaigns promoting European tourist destinations, Liikanen said, but warned there was no talk of subsidies or compensation to the sector through reductions of taxes, which in some cases can add up to 30 percent of prices.
EU officials maintain that losses caused by fewer foreign visitors could be offset by more domestic tourism, because more Europeans are choosing to take vacations closer to home.
But some European tour operators disagree, saying that promoting tourism among Europeans will not be enough.
``This is absolute rubbish,'' said Tom Jenkins, executive director of the European Tour Operators Association. ``We are looking at a drop of between 40 to 50 percent,'' he said from the world travel industry's largest annual trade convention in London.
``I'm wondering what hoteliers in Paris and London are supposed to do ... We are talking about tens and hundreds of thousands of job losses here,'' Jenkins said.
He said EU governments needed to work together to brand and promote Europe as a single destination area for the overseas market.
Tourism forms a major part of the EU's economy, feeding off famed attractions like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican in Rome and Buckingham Palace in London. The sector employs over 20 million people and accounts for 12 percent of gross domestic product of the EU.
Officials said France, Europe's No. 1 tourist destination, registered a 20-percent drop in visitors since Sept. 11, a serious setback for an industry that last year brought in 75 million tourists and $29 billion. Italian hotels expected to lose nearly $470 million and showed a 22 percent drop in foreign visitors last month.
The Association of European Airlines, which represents 29 major air carriers, estimated its members will lose at least $2 billion up to December and will be forced to ground 108 aircraft, putting 20,000 jobs in jeopardy because of declining passengers.
On Tuesday, the AEA reported its member airlines lost almost 11 percent of traffic in Europe since Sept. 11, compared with the same 2000 period.
The traffic drop on Asian and Australian routes was 17 percent and on North American routes almost 35 percent, AEA said.
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