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Eurostar taps U.S. tourist return as terror concerns ease

Eurostar International said American tourists are returning to Europe as concerns about terrorist attacks ease, with the number of U.S. travelers on its Channel Tunnel express trains up 17 percent so far this year compared with the same period in 2016. 

Demand for business travel has also picked up, particularly in Britain, where bookings were 4 percent higher in the first 10 weeks, Eurostar said Thursday after posting a ($31 million (25 million-pound) loss for 2016, versus a 34 million-pound year-earlier profit.  

"With the return of travelers from the U.S. and business travel on the increase, the market is now rebounding strongly and we are optimistic about the growth prospects for the year," Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic said. There has also been a resurgence in Chinese and Australian bookings, and visibility through the key Easter travel period is good, he said in an interview.  

Eurostar's passenger tally fell 4 percent to 10 million in 2016 following a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe that targeted cities including Paris and Brussels, two of Eurostar's three main terminals. U.S. visitors and Asian tour parties were among key groups to stay away.  

Sales fell 3 percent last year to $974 million (794 million pounds), or 8 percent at constant exchange rates. A revival began late in 2016, with Eurostar recording its busiest-ever December as the pound's slump following the U.K. vote to quit the European union spurred Parisians to visit London.  

The U.S. rebound has been aided by the strength of the dollar, with the same factor also encouraging Europeans to holiday locally rather than take trans-Atlantic trips, Petrovic said. The overall volume of passengers originating outside Europe increasing 18 percent in the first 10 weeks.  

Among London-based business travelers, Eurostar's client base now extends well beyond the financial sector to include the energy, technology and retail industries, among others, the CEO said. France's economy is also picking up, he said, while listing the forthcoming presidential election there alongside the outcome of Brexit talks and the possibility of further terrorist attacks as factors that could curb reverse the demand trend.  

For that reason the company won't yet be restoring frequencies it removed last year following the U.K. vote. "It's still early days and we're in recovery mode," Petrovic said. "There are still too many uncertainties."  

A continued recovery is vital as Eurostar prepares to introduce its first London-Amsterdam service at the end of this year with two return services a day.  

The train will reach the Dutch city in less than four hours via Brussels, though it's not yet clear whether it will serve Antwerp, Belgium, where the station may be too small to incorporate immigration facilities, Petrovic said. A stop in Rotterdam, three hours from London, is expected to be popular because the city has poor air links and provides access to The Hague.  

Eurostar has also opened a new business lounge at its Paris Gare du Nord terminus and invested in new e320 trains built by Siemens, each carrying 150 more people than members of the original fleet. Eleven of the 17 units have been delivered to date.

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