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Business

Waiting Out the Storm

The effects the Sept. 11 attacks had on the worldwide tourism industry are evident at this year's International Tourism Exchange. But recent surveys suggest the bad mood won't last long.

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The long-range view of the travel industry is optimistic.

The world’s largest tourism trade fair is a little bit less dense this year.

Roughly 1,000 exhibitors cancelled plans to show their face at the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) fair in Berlin taking place from March 16 to March 20. The cancellations were expected in a year when the worldwide travel industry saw a major slowdown, accelerated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The World Trade Organization measured a 0.7 percent travel over the past year.

Global giants like Thomas Cook, which saw bookings down 30 percent, and Lufthansa were among those absent this year. Like many others Thomas Cook said with the company in cost-cutting mode, extras like a booth at the tourism exchange was just not feasible.

"The cost of booth rental at the ITB alone is enough to make one think whether or not to show up," said Thomas Cook chairman Detlef Altmann in December.

Many big players like TUI, part of global travel leader Preussag, and Deutsche Bahn had smaller booths at this year’s fair.

Belt-tightening won't last long

But all were optimistic that the belt-tightening wouldn’t last long. Recent surveys have shown an increase in the number of airline and tourism bookings. Though bookings for the summer remain 10 percent lower than the year before, there is widespread industry consensus that Industry experts say the dramatic low brought by the terrorist attacks will be over by the end of the year.

"The worst is over," Klaus Hildebrandt, editor of FVW International, the leading trade journal for the German tourism industry told Deutsche Welle. Of course the industry is very hard hit after Sept. 11 but since the mid January the bookings are increasing."

But the travel industry will still have to undertake a lot to draw customers back in, he added. The worldwide economic slump has had its effect, forcing many to think twice before handing over their hard-earned money for a hard-earned vacation.

"People are looking for a good deal and value for their money," he said.

Good deals and the bottom line

In accommodating them, companies will be stuck between offering attractive vacation getaways and making sure not to alienate shareholders, Hildebrandt said.

Their most discerning, and potentially lucrative, audience will once again be the Germans.

Widely considered to be the world’s most prolific travelers, Germans were among those who stayed home in droves following the airline attacks. Though recent survey show willingness to travel up again, tourism companies would be wise to pitch trips within Germany or close to it. About 39 percent of Germans plan to spend their summer vacation in Germany, according to one recent study.

"They will travel to a large extent," Hildebrant said, but "it might not be as good year as last year."

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