ETC: U.S. arrivals could be off by up to 15%

NEW YORK -- U.S. travel to Europe was off by nearly a quarter in the seven off-peak months following Sept. 11, and summer arrival rates may turn out to be down by as much as 15%, figures that officials at the European Travel Commission here attributed to a lack of sufficient airlift.

"It will be important to ... encourage our carriers to restore the flights and seats we need as soon as possible," said Einar Gustavsson, U.S. chairman of the 33-nation ETC.

According to U.S. Dept. of Commerce figures cited by Gustavsson, some 4.7 million Americans visited Europe from October 2001 through this April, the fewest since the 1996-97 season.

Although arrivals increased gradually from November to February, growth stalled in March, and arrivals in April were down 26.4% compared to the year-ago period.

Major airlines are reporting heavier traffic for the high season, which runs through September, but the ETC predicts that U.S. arrivals on the Continent will mirror a persistent 15% drop in flight capacity compared to 2001.

But discount pricing this fall and winter may help spur a recovery, Gustavsson noted.

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