THE Lake Geneva region in Switzerland is bracing for a 25 per cent cutback in its hotels sector because of a sharp drop in European and American visitors. About a quarter of the hotels in the region would close within three years according to a Swiss tourist office delegation which is attempting to lure more visitors from the Asia-Pacific region. Asian visitors to the Lake Geneva region between January and August this year were the fastest-growing source worldwide. The delegation, headed by tourist officials from the Lake Geneva region, has just finished a two-week Asian promotion exercise to attract tourists and business travellers from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand. The tourist industry in Switzerland's south west region, which included the United Nations' headquarters in Geneva and cities such as Lausanne and Montreux, faced a difficult time, delegation head Georges Tauxe said. 'It is hard for us to maintain the 50 per cent occupancy rate where we would be able to break even. Most of the hotels have an average occupancy rate of less than 50 per cent,' Mr Tauxe said. 'Up to 20 to 25 per cent of the hotels [in the Lake Geneva region] will have to close in two to three years if the occupancy rate does not improve.' The region has 552 hotels of all categories, providing 34,060 beds and up to 138 hotels could close. Key to the problem was a sharp drop in European visitors who made up 40.54 per cent of total visitors and Americans who made up 6.56 per cent of the total to August this year. European visitor numbers were down 8.5 per cent and those from North and South America combined, hit hard by the weak US dollar, declined 5.8 per cent. US visitor numbers, making the largest segment from the Americas, fell 7.6 per cent. 'People prefer to go outside Europe for holidays and flights are a lot cheaper. Fares have simply forced people to travel away from Europe,' Geneva Tourist Office director Francois Bryand said. One bright note was the 4.3 per cent increase in visitors from Asia including the Middle East and India. Japan, South Korea and other Southeast Asian countries including Hong Kong provided 667,107 visitors, up from last year's 625,920 and rising 6.58 per cent. Mr Bryand hoped Asia-Pacific tourist numbers would continue to grow at two to five per cent a year. 'We have been able to maintain stable numbers from Japan despite the slowing down in Japanese economy,' Mr Bryand said. 'We will be able to increase people coming from Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea because they still have not learnt all about the region.' Often perceived as a tranquil but expensive destination, Mr Bryand admitted that preconception was a problem: 'We still have the image that we are too expensive compared with other big capitals. We have to fight that image. 'As a venue for a convention or a congress, we are cheaper than Paris or London.'