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American tourists expected to return to Paris

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PARIS — Paris tourism officials said Thursday they expect an increase in numbers of American tourists as the U.S. recovers from recent economic woes.

The Paris tourism office said that it expects U.S. visitor numbers to rise in the second half of 2010 — although there's a lot of catching up to do.

While Americans remain the City of Light's most frequent foreign visitors, their numbers were down by more than 40 percent from a decade ago. In the first half of this year, U.S. visitors were down by 3.4 percent compared to the same period in 2009.

Paul Roll, director of the Paris Tourism Office, said at a press conference that American tour operators are "very positive" on the expected upturn.

He said the American market was the first to be hit by the crisis — with visitor numbers dropping off beginning in August 2007.

Eighteen difficult months gave way to a brief rebound in 2009 but the expensive euro dissuaded American visitors and the numbers began falling again.

An increase in visitors from the Middle East, China and Africa helped fill the gap in the first half of the year. The biggest increase over the past ten years comes from Spanish visitors, whose numbers are up over 40 percent.

Globally, the Paris tourism office expects a 6 percent increase in overnight stays this year, compared to a 4 percent drop in 2009.

"Paris has weathered the crisis very well," said Thomas Deschamps, a statistician for the tourist office.

Hotels are starting to raise prices faster than expected, and business travel is increasing, he said.