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Disney shrugs off tourism blues

Euro Disney is expecting an increase in visitors despite a downturn in the tourist industry since September 11
Euro Disney is expecting an increase in visitors despite a downturn in the tourist industry since September 11  

MARNE-LA-VALLEE, France (CNN) -- Euro Disney is shrugging off fears of a continuing downturn in tourism with the opening of a new theme park at its Paris resort.

The opening of cinema theme park, Walt Disney Studios, will be the highlight of Euro Disney's 10th anniversary celebration this weekend.

The resort expects numbers visiting the resort to rise from 12 million a year to at least 16 million, the company said. "The terror attacks (in the United States) of September 11 have had no impact on the number of visitors to the park," a Euro Disney spokeswoman told CNN.

However, the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said tourism would probably feel the effects of the attacks for the rest of this year.

Demand for travel and tourism in 2001 and 2002 will fall by 7.4 per cent over the previous two-year period, resulting in the loss of more than 10 million jobs around the world.

CNN's Jim Bittermann reports Euro-Disney is celebrating the opening of Walt Disney Studios, just next door to the current park (March 15)

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But, according to the report, the Disney resort, in the eastern Paris suburb of Marne-la-Vallee, could benefit next year as tourism around the world bounces back.

WTTC spokesman Scott Mills said: "In 2003 the tourism industry across all sectors will see a strong rebound and the year will be even better than the year 2000."

The September 11 attacks have affected the travel habits of many Europeans who are largely avoiding long trips to Africa and Asia and instead staying closer to home, Marc Abramson, managing director of Bear Sterns investment bank, told CNN.

"This, in fact, could turn out to benefit Euro Disney in terms of more Europeans visiting the theme parks," he said.

The resort could reach its estimated 17 million yearly visitors, he said, despite a downturn in the economy in Europe.

"Our research has shown that the French have been the strongest consumers in Europe even in a weak economy.

"Depending on how much the resort in France relies on local visitors, it might not be harmed by the downturn," Abramson said.

The theme park, which opens on Saturday, takes its inspiration from French, European and Hollywood films, cartoons and television, and is similar to Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida.

It offers a stunt act with a high-speed motorbike chase, a workshop on designing cartoon characters and a lesson on special effects that lets visitors see themselves on the big screen.

The 10th anniversary of Euro Disney is not until April 12 but the celebration began on Thursday with a parade featuring a giant birthday cake.

The cake, decorated with candles and pink rosebuds, will lead one of the park's daily parades until early next year.

The birthday celebrations will also feature Mickey and Minnie dancing to themes from Disney films sung in French and English.

Thursday's show went ahead despite a threat from unions to strike over bonuses for senior employees. Management agreed at the last minute to open negotiations next week, The Associated Press reported.


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