European tourism still feeling Sept. 11 effects
By John Leicester
PARIS Lisette Biret's souvenir store has a prime location on the Champs-Elysees and a dizzying choice of kitsch: T-shirts emblazoned with "I Love Paris," gaudy porcelain miniatures of the Eiffel Tower and wooden baguettes that open into bread knives. The only thing missing, it seems, are hordes of tourists.
For all its romance, the City of Light is still contending with the aftereffects of Sept. 11. Make no mistake, tourists are here in force, talking in a babble of languages on boulevards and queuing, guidebooks in hand, for the Eiffel Tower and other must-sees.
But the numbers show tourism has yet to recover fully from the terror of the attacks. Other European destinations also are affected. Americans are proving hard to lure back.
France, Sweden and Britain are among countries still seeing fewer Americans than usual. And among those Americans who are traveling, some are keeping their nationality hidden.
Karen Morian and her classmates from the O'Fallon Township High School in O'Fallon, Ill., said their teacher warned them not to wear American labels, shorts and heavy makeup, or to speak loudly in English during their eight-day trip in June to Paris and the southern resort city of Nice.
"She said it was like waving a red flag," said Morian, 17. "She didn't want us to be easy targets."
Terrorism isn't the only factor making would-be tourists think twice. Morian and her classmates said Paris' notorious pickpockets and bothersome propositions from French men were among their chief concerns.
Britain, meanwhile, is still trying to recoup from an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease last year that, although harmless to humans, contributed to a $3 billion drop in British tourism revenue last year.
Tourism officials hope concerts and other events this year to mark the 50-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II will woo visitors.
"The core elements of the celebrations are pomp, heritage and royal celebrations. They are already one of the top reasons why people, particularly from North America, come to Britain," said Elliot Frisby, a spokesman for the British Tourist Authority.
Britain had 1.6 million North American visitors from January-May, down 3 percent compared with the same five months in 2001.
For France, the surprisingly strong support voters gave to far-right, xenophobic candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections in April was hardly an image booster. Nor was a spate of anti-Semitic attacks. Targeting, among others, synagogues and cemeteries, they prompted some American Jews to cancel or delay visits and forced French tourist officials to issue assurances that the country is safe.
Meanwhile, the growing strength of the euro, now hovering around parity with the U.S. dollar, is eroding American tourists' buying power.
But many still cite Sept. 11 as the biggest reason why some would-be tourists are staying home.
"Americans and Japanese are still hesitant about traveling," said Eric Gastineau, financial director for Paris Vision, a tour firm that saw 20 percent fewer clients this May and June than at the same time last year. "We're not very optimistic about this summer."
"It will take time to get over what happened," said Joachim Scholz, a market researcher with the German National Tourism Board.
But there are also some signs that the fallout from Sept. 11 is easing. Germany's capital, Berlin, saw an 8 percent increase in overnight stays by Americans in April compared to the same month in 2001, according to Natascha Kompatzki, a spokeswoman for Berlin Tourism Marketing.
Italy and Sweden also see better business ahead.
"We're optimistic that with summer, the flow of American tourists coming to Italy will pick up and cancel out the decline in numbers we've had since the Sept. 11 attacks," said Franco Paloscia, head of Italian national tourism agency.
In Stockholm, "we're seeing a lingering effect in travel from the United States and Britain," said Visitors Board spokesman Soeren Falk. "On the other hand, countries like Canada have increased strongly. We're also seeing an increase in visitors from other Nordic countries."
The Swedish capital had 16 percent fewer bookings by Americans in the first five months compared to January-May 2001.
In France, the number of Americans booking into hotels was down 16.5 percent in the first five months this year compared to 2001, according to the government's tourism department. After the attacks, American bookings plunged 33 percent.
But the Eiffel Tower says it got more visitors this May than last, though overall, figures for the year are down about 5 percent.
For some tourists, traveling has almost become an act of defiance, a way of showing that terror can't win. Said Dan Callahan, an Illinois native visiting Barcelona: "You can't let everything scare you or you'd never leave the house.