BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - The European Union unveiled plans Wednesday to attract more visitors from the likes of China and Russia, hoping tourism can help the region bounce back from the economic crisis.
The European commissioner responsible for tourism said better use of technology would be critical in attracting more tourists, with plans for a Europe travel website in Chinese and other ideas in the works for Russia, Japan, India and Brazil.
Travel to and within Europe, which includes several of the world's top tourism destinations, has taken a big hit since the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, and was further dented this year by the volcanic ash cloud in April and May.
The number of tourists visiting Europe dropped by 5.6 percent in 2009 from 2008, according to the World Tourism Organization, with the total value of tourism receipts falling by a more substantial 8 percent to 295.7 billion euros ($362 billion).
That's a trend the EU desperately wants to turn around.
"The European Commission wants to be the trailblazer working to breathe new life into this vital sector," EU commissioner Antonio Tajani told reporters. "It needs to recover from the economic and financial crisis it has been so hard-struck by in the last few months."
The aim is to stimulate more tourism within Europe, by encouraging more young and old people -- those who have more time on their hands -- to travel, while also drawing in more visitors from rapidly developing countries.
With the euro single currency, which is shared by 16 EU countries, having lost more than 10 percent of its value against the dollar this year, the likes of France, Spain and Italy are now relatively cheaper for foreigners to visit.
Quoting the Roman theologian Saint Augustine, Tajani said it was everyone's duty to see as much of the world as possible.
"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page," he said.
One idea being discussed to encourage more young people to travel is to make it possible to book train, plane and hotel tickets via mobile phones. The broader idea is to use technology better and more frequently to promote travel and tourism.
For Europeans aged 65 and over, who are expected to make up 20 percent of the region's 500 million people by 2020, the EU proposals recommend targeted marketing and measures to make tourist sites accessible to those with reduced mobility.
The initiative will not be limited to attracting more visitors to the favorite destinations such as France, Spain, Britain and Italy, Tajani promised, saying it should be targeted at all 27 EU member states.
Tourism accounts for 9.7 million jobs in the EU, employing 5.2 percent of the workforce, according to EU estimates.
Editing by Paul Casciato