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U.S. losing business travelers to Europe

The United States is losing substantial numbers of business travelers to Europe because of the stringent security measures it imposes on international visitors, according to a report by a tourism industry group released Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States is losing substantial numbers of business travelers to Europe because of the stringent security measures it imposes on international visitors, according to a report by a tourism industry group released Monday.

Europe, meanwhile, is failing to fully capitalize on increased interest from Asian travelers because many countries do not have adequate services and infrastructure for that burgeoning market.

The World Travel Market 2006 report — conducted by Euromonitor International — found that total business arrivals to the United States fell by 10 percent to 7 million over the 2004-2005 period, while the number of the business visitors to Europe grew by 8 percent to 84 million over the same period.

Euromonitor International spokesman Clement Wong said the trend away from North America was likely to intensify as security restrictions continue, making obtaining visas more difficult.

“Rather than travel to the U.S., business travelers and leisure travelers are coming to Europe,” Wong said at the opening of the four-day World Travel Market in London’s Docklands business district.

More than 48,000 people are attending the event, where some 200 countries are represented by tourism officials, government delegations and tour operators.

Fiona Jeffrey, managing director of the World Travel Market, said international tourism spending is now valued at $2 billion per day, with Africa maintaining the fastest growth in 2005 of nearly 8 percent.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization, or UNWTO, unveiled new figures Monday showing that global tourism is growing strongly for the third consecutive year in 2006.

The UNWTO said that strong growth in the first eight months of this year meant that full-year growth was likely to be 4.6 percent, in contrast to earlier estimates of 4.2 percent.

However, it said that growth is expected to slow to closer to 4 percent next year because of rising interest rates, a weakening U.S. dollar and strong fuel prices.

Wong said that Europe was failing to capitalize on some of this growth by failing to put in place special services and infrastructure for Asian visitors, whose numbers hit 14 million in 2005.

“With its decreasing and aging population, Europe can no longer depend on intra-regional travel to sustain its travel and tourism industry,” the report said. “Nor can it afford to ignore the fact that Chinese and Indian tourists spend more on holiday than their European counterparts.”

Wong said that several European countries are lacking basic facilities such as coach parking spaces in their capitals to cater to tourist groups from Asia.

The report also identified new trends in global tourism, including “safe danger” tourism in Africa. “Safe danger” tourism is when travelers choose to enter potentially dangerous locations in the company of guides. The most well-known current example is favela tourism in Brazil’s shantytowns.

Euromonitor International said that such “controlled edge” tourism could also be offered in Freetown in Sierra Leone where tourists could be escorted by armed guards around no-go areas in highly volatile cities.

The UNWTO added that it was confident that Lebanon would be able to reconstruct its tourism sector following the 34-day war in July.

Minister of Tourism of Lebanon Joseph Sarkis said “there are already signs that regional business is picking up and we are very confident in the medium-term outlook.”