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Foreign visits to Romania jump 20% in December before EU entry

Visits to Romania by foreigners jumped 20% in December from a year earlier as the country invested in tourism infrastructure and prepared to join the European Union.

Almost 520,000 foreigners visited Romania in December, with about 43% arriving from EU countries, the National Statistics Institute said in an e-mail today. In 2006, foreign arrivals rose 7.1% from 2005 to 6.2 million, it said. The number of Romanians who traveled abroad in December jumped 31% from a year earlier to 692,000 even before they could take advantage of decreased travel restrictions stemming from the country's entry to the EU on January 1, the institute said. Romania's government last year announced it will invest €325 million ($422 million) by the end of 2007 to improve tourism infrastructure, its biggest investment in the industry since the fall of communism 17 years ago.

The money is being used to create nature trails, clean beaches, build recreational ports and divert mineral waters for holiday spas to reverse years of neglect in its tourism industry. Overnight stays in tourist lodgings in December rose 3.4% to 961,000 and also increased 3.4% in the full year to 19 million, the statistics institute said. The World Travel and Tourism Council predicted last March that Romania's tourism industry would be the fastest-growing in Europe for 10 years. The country's tourism industry shrank for eight years before recovering in 2003, the council said. In 2005, tourism accounted for 4.8% of Romania's GDP, rating it 162nd out of 174 countries, behind poorer nations such as Rwanda and El Salvador. (Bloomberg)