War in Iraq would blow a hole in the fragile recovery of global tourism whose hopes to overcome September 11 have already been hit by this year's attacks in Bali and Kenya, a leading industry group warned on Friday.

Even without a U.S.-led war against President Saddam Hussein in the equation, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has revised down its figures from an originally predicted six percent rise in global tourism demand in 2003 to four percent.

That is due to the persistent economic downturn, and renewed travel safety fears after terror attacks like the October nightclub bombings in Bali and last month's car bomb and missile attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya.

But if a conflict goes ahead, as many are predicting for early next year, instead of recovering to near pre-September 11 2001 levels, tourism demand could take a massive 12 percent nosedive, the WTTC's president Jean-Claude Baumgarten said.

"War changes the picture completely," Baumgarten told reporters at a briefing on the WTTC's latest research on tourism trends and its plans for an international industry summit in Portugal next year.

"If we take the scenario of the Gulf War 10 years ago, there was a 12 percent fall in demand in the aftermath. We assume it would be similar again."

America Relatively Resilient

According to the WTTC, which groups travel industry chief executives, tourism is the biggest world industry, accounting for 10 percent of global domestic product if its myriad air, hotel, service and other sectors are taken as a whole.

On a positive note, Baumgarten, a Frenchman in charge of the U.K.-based WTTC for three years, said the effect of September 11 on tourism had been "less bad" than expected this year.

Demand in 2002, measured in U.S. dollar terms, was only 0.1 percent down on the whole of 2001, leading to a total projected downturn in both years of 5.7 percent — well down on the 7.4 percent fall originally forecast by the WTTC.

"However, the recovery which should start in 2003 will be slower because of the combination of the world economic situation and recent events in Bali, Mombasa and so on," he said.

The United States' tourism industry had proved more resilient than expected, staying flat in 2002 despite a projected 2.2 percent decrease in demand.

Europe, however, had performed worse than expected, Baumgarten said, showing a 1.6 percent fall this year when it had been forecast to stay roughly the same as 2001.

"The problem in Europe is Germany," Baumgarten said, referring to Germany's economic problems. "Quite simply, Germans are travelling less."

The WTTC is spearheading efforts within the industry to take a further, coordinated look at security following the Bali and Kenya incidents. After the focus on planes in the wake of September 11, "air travel became safer than ever," he said.

"But now security is taking on a new dimension. Anywhere is a potential target," Baumgarten said. "We knew the danger was there, but Bali and Mombasa were very, very shocking."

The WTTC is due to publish a series of security recommendations in January.