Cool Britannia rediscovers its style again

Tourists are flocking to join in a cultural renaissance, report Louise Jury and Simon Calder
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Britain has finally rediscovered the stylishness and excitement of the Swinging Sixties, at least according to foreigners: Britpop, high fashion and the period drama revival have boosted numbers of overseas visitors to an all-time high.

The buzz, exemplified by the present London Fashion Week, is attracting a new type of visitor, interested not only in Big Ben and Shakespeare country but the club scene, street markets and a cool urban style previously associated with Paris or New York.

A total of 23.7 million foreign tourists spent nearly pounds 12bn in the UK last year, with citizens of Taiwan and the Czech Republic recording the biggest increases in expenditure during their visits. Anthony Sell, chief executive of the British Tourist Authority (BTA), which revealed the increase in its annual report yesterday, said: "Britain is enjoying a cultural renaissance not seen for three decades.

"Our appeal has many forms - from Britpop and the club scene to symphony orchestras with world-class soloists, or the thrill of following Emma Thompson or Anthony Hopkins on location. Our cities attract shoppers from all over the world for the latest fashions, from designer labels to street styles. Drawn by such attractions, more visitors are deciding that Britain is the place to come to."

The image has not just come naturally. The BTA has promoted a "Style and Design" campaign, particularly directed at the US, Latin America, Mediterranean Europe, and South-east Asia markets, where there are large numbers of affluent young people and older couples without children.

It also produced a new 66-page guide to the trendier Britain, with articles on clubbing, music and surfing, which in Singapore stimulated 600 enquiries within three hours of its launch. And for film fans, a map pinpointing the locations of hits such as Sense and Sensibility, Rob Roy and First Knight, encouraged more visitors to explore the countryside.

Mr Sell said: "We have strengthened Britain's image as a stylish, contemporary and vibrant destination - now we are starting to see the dividends."

At Butler's Wharf, in London, yesterday, where the style guru Sir Terence Conran owns a clutch of the capital's most fashionable restaurants, the Italians Federica Giuliolo, 19, and Francesca Canaletti, 20, named learning to speak English followed by "the monuments" and "history" as their reasons for coming to Britain.

But pressed on what they loved about the city, Ms Giuliolo had no doubts - the style. "The music and the people. Fashion. You can do whatever you want and nobody will tell you not to. In Italy, it is completely the opposite," she said. Ms Canaletti elaborated: "In Rome, you can't go out with blue hair in the street."

Helen Zachariassen, and Nick Derecourt, New Zealanders, both 23, had strolled on to trendy Butler's Wharf by accident not design, but liked it. "It's lovely, really stylish," Miss Zachariassen said.

They had, of course, been to Buckingham Palace, St Paul's and had "done all the touristy things" since they arrived last week on a working holiday, using Britain as a base. But, Mr Derecourt said: "When I think of London, I think of the club scene." "And high fashion," Ms Zachariassen added.

The BTA claimed yesterday's figures showed the importance of tourism to the British economy and the vital role of the BTA in generating that income. Mr Sell said its activities generated the equivalent of pounds 27 in return for every pounds 1 of the pounds 35m public money invested. It was not only London that benefited. Although the capital seized 54.3 per cent of the income, the rest of England earned 34.9 per cent, with Scotland at 7.3 per cent, Wales 1.7 per cent and Northern Ireland 0.4 per cent. The 20 per cent rise in revenue boosted Britain's share of world tourism earnings to 5 per cent, compared with a record low of 4.4 per cent two years ago.

The recent success came under the direction of Adele Biss, the chairman whose contract was not renewed by the then Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley in a move which dismayed the travel industry.

But the 1995 figures were also aided by the IRA ceasefire, currency movements making Britain a cheaper destination, and good weather. Asked whether the success would continue as these factors changed, Mr Sell said: "We don't see any dark clouds on the horizon."

Leading article, page 15

Style guide

The alternative guide to Britain - hip places for the cool traveller...

In London - Camden market, the King's Road, Docklands (snaps of Canary Wharf tower obligatory), the Oxo tower and Gabriel's Wharf, Butler's Wharf, anywhere elegant to shop.

Outside the capital - Manchester and Newcastle (for the clubs); Glasgow (for the Charles Rennie Mackintosh museum and Museum of Modern Art); Brighton; Edinburgh.