Int'l arrivals to U.S. dip in first quarter

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WASHINGTON -- International arrivals to the U.S. dropped by 2.1% during the first quarter of this year, compared with the first quarter of 1997, fueled by double-digit drops in arrivals from Canada and Asia, according to the Commerce Department's Tourism Industries Office.

Canada arrivals, which accounts for about a third of all international arrivals, fell 10% in the first quarter, including a 16% drop in March.

Japan, the largest source of overseas arrivals to the U.S., slipped 4%. Overall Asian arrivals fell 12%; South Korea arrivals plummeted 62%, while China and Hong Kong fell 14%.

"The indication right now, without question, is [arrivals are] going to be a little weaker than we anticipated," said Helen Morano, the officer's director of tourism development.

Asia's downturn had been predicted, but the biggest concern now is the potential "trickle-down" effect on Latin America from Russia's economic turmoil, she said.

But Morano emphasized that industry officials need to consider the long-term when deciding where to invest their resources, and she added they may want to pay particular attention to the office's revised forecast in late October.

Even amid the first-quarter decline, there were some bright spots.

Western Europe arrivals were up nearly 5%, with strong gains from the Netherlands (up 31%), the U.K. (12%) and France (11%). Italy's increase (7%) was stronger than usual.

Mexico arrivals via land boomed, up nearly 70%.

Regions showing good growth included Africa (11%), Central America (9%) and Eastern Europe (6%).

Those bright spots aside, the Tourism Industries Office isn't expecting any dramatic turnaround in the second quarter, based on preliminary data.

South Korea will do a little better, but Japan will match its first-quarter decline, officials said. The figures also are expected to show continued downturns from Canada, Germany and Brazil.

The best news should continue to come from the U.K., the second-biggest source of overseas arrivals, which Morano said continues to produce double-digit growth.

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