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Berlin Christmas market attack threatens European tourism again
December 20, 2016 / 3:50 PM / 8 months ago

Berlin Christmas market attack threatens European tourism again

Candles burn at the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, December 20, 2016, one day after a truck ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital.Hannibal Hanschke

BERLIN (Reuters) - The truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday evening is the latest blow for Europe's tourism industry, hitting a city that had been attracting more and more visitors in recent years.

The truck ploughed into a crowd enjoying mulled wine and festive food at a popular tourist location in former West Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48 in what German authorities said seemed to be a deliberate attack.

The attack was reminiscent of the carnage in the French city of Nice in July when a gunman drove a heavy truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86 people and injuring scores.

"Christmas markets are a big attraction for German cities, including Berlin, and this attack will no doubt impact the amount of visitors for the remainder of this year," Wouter Geerts, travel analyst at Euromonitor, said.

The attacks in Nice and Paris last November as well as Brussels in March have already dampened demand for travel to Europe, especially from the United States, China and Japan.

ForwardKeys, which predicts travel patterns by analysing 16 million reservations a day, has said Chinese outbound bookings to Europe have fallen 7.7 percent between mid-November 2015 and mid-October 2016.

On Tuesday, ForwardKeys said bookings to Berlin were down 6.6 percent so far this year due to concerns about security in Europe. But it said bookings to the German capital had been staging a recovery over the last two months, with reservations up 11 percent compared with the same period last year.

SECURITY MEASURES

Berlin has more than 60 Christmas markets. Visitors are also attracted by its history, vibrant nightlife and relatively low costs for a European capital, all of which have helped boost visitor numbers in recent years.

According to Euromonitor, trips to Berlin have risen by 50 percent since 2010. Between January and October, the latest month for which data is available, the Berlin-Brandenburg statistics office said arrivals rose 2.5 percent to 10.7 million, driven in particular by demand from Britain.

The numbers for November and December were also looking excellent, according to Burkhard Kieker, head of tourism promotion group visitBerlin. He said he had spoken with hotels and there were no signs visitors were hastily packing their bags to leave the city.

"It is important that we continue to demonstrate our way of life, our hospitality, our culture, to show that it will not be destroyed by the actions of others," he said.

Berlin has one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany at 10.7 percent and tourists are a major driver of the local economy, accounting for about 40 percent of sales in the city's shopping streets and malls.

Authorities in Germany and elsewhere in Europe responded to Monday's attack by saying they would step up security measures at Christmas markets and New Year events, with a more visible police presence and more frequent patrols.

Berlin's Christmas markets will remain shut on Tuesday out of respect for the victims and police said they would erect extra security barriers in the coming days.

However, Euromonitor's Geerts said he did not expect a major impact on tourism to Germany and Berlin next year.

ForwardKeys founder Olivier Jager agreed: "It is too early to say what the impact of last night's incident will be, but one thing we do know is that travellers in general are becoming less put off by terrorist attacks than they used to be."

Additional reporting by Caroline Copley; editing by David Clarke

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