Europe looks to China, Russia to pull in tourists

Wed Jun 30, 2010 12:39pm EDT
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By Andrea Swalec

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.   Continued...