Hotels in Athens reported a sharp decline in occupancy rates and tourist arrivals plunged last month as the economic slowdown in Europe and the SARS virus discouraged people from traveling. Yet to recover from the September 11 terrorist attack, the tourism industry has found itself grappling with the impact of slowing economic growth in Europe, which has diminished Europeans’ appetite for holiday, a fall-off in travel stemming from SARS and a change in tourism patterns. Occupancy rates in the capital’s hotels fell by an average of 25 percent in April, the Attica Hotels Association reported in its May newsletter released yesterday. Luxury and first-class hotels fared the worst, due in part to the reopening of two major hotels early this year. Luxury class hotels saw their occupancy rates drop to 34.98 percent from 53.34 percent last year. First-class hotels only managed to fill up half their rooms compared with a 75-percent occupancy rate a year earlier. «B» category hotels did no better, with the occupancy rate declining to 47.52 percent from 65 percent last year. Hotels in the lower categories reported flat demand for their rooms. The number of tourists visiting Athens in April was down by a fifth, less than neighboring Istanbul but a substantial fall compared with rival destinations such as Madrid, the association said, citing statistics from professional services firm Deloitte and Touche. «Athens is going through one of its worst tourism periods,» it lamented. It criticized the lack of an official tourism strategy and a poorly funded advertising campaign that has failed to make a mark. The government has repeatedly forecast a recovery in the tourism industry as summer draws closer.