BA and Avis suffer as foot-and-mouth hits UK tourism

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British Airways and Avis car hire yesterday provided more evidence of tourists staying away from Britain as a result of foot-and-mouth disease

British Airways and Avis car hire yesterday provided more evidence of tourists staying away from Britain as a result of foot-and-mouth disease.

BA said the virus, along with slowing of the US economy and a glitch in its computer booking system, meant that March revenues would be down £15m to £20m on last year.

Traffic fell 8.9 per cent compared with March 2000, while the load factor ­ how full an aircraft is ­ slipped 1.8 points to 70.0 per cent.

The company said its computer problem "is also expected to have some impact on the results for April and May".

Disruption to the system affected a 10-day period last month, meaning that it was unable to take some bookings. The problem occurred when BA upgraded the bookings system.

A spokeswoman for BA conceded that a weakening US economy and foot-and-mouth disease would also affect business in April and May.

The spokeswoman added, however, that the March figures showed that BA's strategy of focusing on premium traffic was paying off.

Club World, its business class, improved over a strong March performance last year, the carrier said, and "the outlook for travel in this cabin continues to be positive".

Separately, Avis Europe warned that, after a good start to the year, its UK business was showing signs that the impact of foot-and-mouth was hitting car hire, as tourists and businessmen stayed away or cut down on travelling around Britain.

Its shares fell 13.25p to 139.75p.

Alun Cathcart, the chairman, said: "Although overall revenues from US inbound business in the first quarter are in line with expectations we remain cautious about demand from US customers which generates some 10 per cent of total annual revenues."

Mr Cathcart said that slower economic growth and rising costs across Europe is "leading to somewhat lower volume in 2001". He said the situation in Germany was particularly difficult, though he added that European pricing trends continue to be favourable.

A number of brokers sounded caution on Avis Europe stock.

ABN Amro said it expected pre-tax profits this year to edge up by just £2m to £109m.

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