The number of international visitors to the Asia Pacific region in 2009 has continued to fall, according to new data released Wednesday.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is warning that the region could end the year with 17 million fewer visitors than last year, marking an overall five percent drop, a sobering figure for a region where tourism has already been severely damaged by environmental disasters and influenza outbreaks.

Several regions are struggling to regain ground from the already-depressed levels in 2008. Hardest hit is Japan, where arrivals dropped by 16 percent from September 2008 to September 2009. The Japanese National Tourism Association is predicting that visitors will be down by almost a quarter (23.1 percent) overall by the end of the year. Arrivals to India and China have also fallen by four percent.

"This year is shaping up to be one of the worst for many years for international arrivals into Asia Pacific destinations," said PATA's Kris Lim. "We have lost two years of growth. The prospects for 2010 appear promising but it needs to be stressed that there is no quick fix for the travel and tourism industry."

However, some areas showed strong signs of recovery in September, with Sri Lanka posting a 29 percent year-on-year increase. Malaysia showed a 25 percent increase and Korea a 16 percent increase, while New Zealand and Australia both showed nine percent jumps. Overall September growth was 0.8 percent.

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