ETC predicts boom in off-peak visitors

NEW YORK -- The European Travel Commission here predicts as many as 5.5 million Americans might visit the Continent in the coming October-to-April off-peak season, inspired to fly by falling airfares and packaged tour prices.

"Airfares are going down 30% to 40% for departures from late September on, while prices for packages -- from escorted tours to basic fly-hotel-car packages -- will drop to super-attractive levels," said Einar Gustavsson, chairman of the 33-nation ETC and director of the Icelandic Tourist Board in New York and U.S.

Such a surge would represent a considerable increase over last year's 4.8 million arrivals, the first off-peak decline since the 1990-91 season.

It also would signal a return to pre-Sept. 11 trends, when nearly as many Americans visited Europe from autumn through spring each year as during peak summer months, Gustavsson noted.

In other ETC news, the Baltic nations of Latvia and Lithuania joined the ETC as of July 1.

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