Sterling's rise harms tourism

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The Independent Online
STERLING'S HIGH value is losing the tourist industry hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs, according to a report issued yesterday by the British Tourist Authority.

The amount of money spent by visitors to the UK last year remained at pounds 12bn, the same level as 1996, even though the number of visitors had risen to a record 25.5 million.

"The continuing strong pound, coupled with the financial crisis in Asia, means 1998 is unlikely to be any easier," said David Quarmby, the BTA's chairman.

"The 16 per cent rise in the value of the pound against European currencies will have cost Britain over pounds 850m in revenue from European visitors in 1997 and 30,000 tourism jobs in this country."

BTA said that the rise in value of sterling could also cost Britain its fifth place, above Germany, in the world tourism market.

Despite the gloomy prognosis for the tourist industry in the short term, Mr Quarmby said that the UK would benefit from the arrival of the new millennium, even if the pound continued to gain in strength.

BTA has forecast a bumper year for British tourism in 2000 because of the Millennium Dome and popularity of Greenwich. It is estimated that that there could be 28.3 million visitors who would spend pounds 14.5bn.

The BTA is launching a pounds 3m marketing campaign - "Britain: Now is the Time" - to attract more visitors for the turn of the century.

"Britain will be the centre of world attention for the year 2000," said Mr Quarmby.

Supporting the Millennium Dome project, he added: "Britain is now accepted as the focus of the celebration ... Not only do we have historic Greenwich, with its links with time, but we have the Millennium Dome with all its attractions.

"I think it is the greatest tourism opportunity this country has ever seen," he said.

According to the BTA's figures for 1997, the Europeans spent just over pounds 6bn in Britain; visitors from the Americas spent pounds 2.8bn; and those from Asia, the Middle East and Africa contributed pounds 3.2bn.

Mr Quarmby said that the UK was still growing in popularity as a holiday destination for many nationalities, especially Americans and Canadians.

"The good news is that there has been a steady growth from North America of around 10 per cent and this will help to counteract poor performances from other regions," he said.

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