Clinton to speak at Europe forum

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NEW YORK -- A forum hosted by the European Travel Commission here Dec. 18 will bring together more than 400 government and travel industry participants -- including former President Bill Clinton and top airline executives -- for a brainstorming session on how to rebuild U.S. travel to Europe in 2003.

Featured speakers joining Clinton at the Trans-Atlantic Travel Marketing Conference, to be held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, include Gordon Bethune, chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines; Xabier de Irala, chairman and CEO of Iberia Airlines; and Helen Marano, director of the U.S. Commerce Department's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

The ETC's chairman in the U.S., Einar Gustavsson -- also director for the Americas at the Icelandic Tourist Board -- said bookings to Europe for next year look encouraging, and there's no time like the present to address traveler fears with a positive message and to plan for calmer times.

"War may be looming, but it's happened before and people just can't hunker down and do nothing," he said.

"The ETC felt as a group that we have to address that challenge."

The ETC -- which represents 33 European national tourist boards -- felt the conference required a high-profile speaker to draw media and industry attention.

"[Clinton's] speech will be general, addressing the world situation today, but also will go into what people can do to improve the current tourism situation," said Gustavsson.

One hot topic at the forum, he added, will be the transatlantic airlift situation; many tourist boards blame a lack of sufficient flights for a sluggish recovery in arrivals from the U.S. this summer.

"I think most ETC countries are looking at higher numbers in 2003, but it all depends on the airline seats," Gustavsson said, adding that a predicted rise in charter flights may help speed a recovery in U.S. visitor numbers.

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