ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Mass cancellations by travelers over the terror attacks against the United States may have the global tourism business headed for its worst crisis ever.
Travel agents around the world called the attacks ``catastrophic'' for the $455 billion-a-year business, and say the crisis could surpass their worst previous blow to the industry, the Gulf War in 1991.
Tourism is ``the world's No. 1 industry, and the services are reliant on people's safety and security, and people's financial safety and security,'' said Graham Miller, a tourism lecturer at the University of Westminster in London. ``Both of these have been threatened by this event.''
Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization, called the attacks a ``terrible blow'' but on Monday predicted a quick recovery.
``We have learned from experience that the tourism industry recovers very quickly from adversity,'' said Frangialli, whose Madrid-based organization includes 139 countries and territories as well as hotel groups, airlines and tour operators.
Tourism revenues have not declined for a single year since World War II, ``despite all the conflicts we've had in the world over the past 50 years,'' he said.
Still, Rome resident Pietro La Monica said he was staying put. He pulled out of a group trip that left Sunday for national parks in the western United States.
``Frankly, I'm scared, and particularly my wife, about getting hijacked,'' he said.
One of Italy's largest tour operators for the United States, the Genoa-based Kuoni Gastaldi, said hundreds of U.S. tours had already been canceled.
Tourism is the lifeblood for many countries, especially less developed nations that have no other major industries. The World Tourism Organization says the money spent by vacationers is the main source of income for almost 40 percent of the world's countries.
``The United States is essential to world tourism,'' said Miller, who has studied previous tourism disasters. ``It generates the most amount of revenue globally.''
Responding to the expected drop following Tuesday's terrorist attacks, airlines in the U.S. are cutting back service dramatically. The nation's nine largest airlines report losses between $100 million and $250 million each day the nation's air space was shut down.
Americans are the world's biggest-spending tourists, shelling out $60.1 billion in 1999, followed by Germans at $48.2 billion and Japanese at $32.8 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization.
For the tourism industry, the Gulf War has been the benchmark of gloom. Growth in global tourism revenues plummeted from 21.5 percent in 1990 to just 3.2 percent in 1991. The following year, the industry rebounded to 13.5 percent growth.
``That war lasted for six or seven months and then ended. It had a visible end,'' said Andreas Potamianos, president of the Greek Cruise Ship Owners Organization and owner of Royal Olympic Cruises. ``Of course, it was far from the United States. The bad thing is that, right now, the problem is in the United States.''
Potamianos said Americans made up 70 percent of his passengers in September and October, the peak season for the cruise ship industry. He said there already have been 700 cancelations for fall cruises out of a total of 2,400 bookings.
In Austria, the National Tourism Office predicts the terror attacks ``will affect all areas of tourism worldwide.'' Italy's national tourism board calls the situation ``very critical.''
``In these days, we have already lost a lot, because September and October are the busiest months in Italy for American tourists,'' said Piergiorgio Togni, a spokesman for the Italian board.
On the other side of the world, the director of the Australian Tourist Commission, Ken Boundy, expects a big drop in American visitors.
``Reports from the industry indicate that U.S. consumers are already canceling holiday bookings to Australia and other destinations,'' he said.
Japan's largest tour agency, Japan Travel Bureau, said 9,500 people had already called off trips to the United States and Canada, causing the company to lose $13 million.
``Naturally, people would be reluctant to go to the United States,'' said Isao Matsuzawa, spokesman for the Japan Association of Travel Agents. ``We just have to hope they would choose other destinations _ for instance, Southeast Asia _ instead of not going anywhere at all.''