Tourism industry puts faith in jubilee

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The Independent Online

The full extent of the impact on the tourism industry of foot-and-mouth disease and the 11 September attacks on America was revealed yesterday by figures showing a dramatic decline in the number of visitors to Britain's top attractions.

The full extent of the impact on the tourism industry of foot-and-mouth disease and the 11 September attacks on America was revealed yesterday by figures showing a dramatic decline in the number of visitors to Britain's top attractions.

London suffered heavily, with Westminster Abbey losing 19 per cent of its visitors and the British Museum 13.8 per cent, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Visits to Stonehenge, which was closed for part of the year because of the epidemic, were down 22 per cent.

Even Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which attracted 5.9 million holiday-makers and day-trippers last year – the largest number drawn to one site – suffered a 5 per cent decline in visitor numbers.

While figures released by the Office for National Statistics this month confirmed that the domestic tourist industry lost £2bn of business last year, a spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport expressed optimism yesterday that major events would help lure back overseas visitors.

Foreign tourists are expected to flock to the celebrations of the Queen's golden jubilee and the Commonwealth Games, to take place in Manchester in July and August.

The spokeswoman said: "We hope to boost last year's disappointing tourism figures by these two major events and we are very hopeful that overseas visitors will be drawn to them."

Among sites that managed to buck the trend were Kew Gardens in London, which saw a 16 per cent rise in visitor numbers last year, and Legoland in Windsor, which was up 9.4 per cent.

But the British Tourist Authority is confident that the latest figures are not part of a permanent trend. Orla Farren, a BTA spokeswoman, said heritage sites had not lost their appeal for holiday-makers from overseas. "We have not sensed a downturn in the popularity of heritage sites. In fact, there are so many people who come to Britain for its heritage, especially in the light of this year's golden jubilee. Many of the heritage sites were merely hit by the double blow of foot-and-mouth, which affected the countryside, and 11 September, which affected urban tourism," she said.

The BTA joined forces last month with more than a thousand British businesses to launch a strategy to win back overseas visitors under the banner of "UK OK", supported by a £5m advertising campaign.

Ms Farren expressed optimism that American tourists would return. She said: "There is a great demand to learn about heritage, with all the events happening in London and across the country in the lead-up to the jubilee celebrations. This is one of the core themes for the year."

Robin Broke, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, was also upbeat about tourism prospects. He said that while American and Japanese visitor numbers had dropped, positive factors such as the scrapping of admission charges at a number of attractions had already improved business. The Natural History Museum in London, for example, attracted 11 per cent more people since scrapping its fees.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, is to unveil a £40m package today aimed at attracting visitors to the country's most popular destinations, such as the Lake District.

Meanwhile a new survey by the British Hospitality Association suggested that UK tourism outside London was recovering but the capital was continuing to struggle.

In the period between October and December last year, 47 per cent of hotels outside London reported better occupancy figures than in the same months in 2000. But four in five hotels in the capital saw a dip in occupancy during that period.

Changing fortunes of Britain's top attractions

The winners

Kew Gardens

The 300-acre garden in Richmond, south-west London ­ boasting more than 40,000 varieties of plants ­ attracted 16 per cent more visitors. Kew was one of the few horticultural draws not closed down by foot-and-mouth disease.

Legoland, Windsor

The theme park, based in 150 acres of parkland, features miniature Lego cities, 50 rides and live shows. It attracted 9.4 per cent more visitors and may have been seen by Americans as a safer place than London.

The losers

Stonehenge

Visits to the ancient standing stones on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire were down 22 per cent last year. Stonehenge was in the thick of the foot-and-mouth crisis and had to be shut for several weeks.

Tower of London

There were 12.8 per cent fewer visitors to the home of the Crown jewels. The Tower has always been an obvious attraction for Americans, the very people who were too nervous to fly to Britain following the terrorist attacks.

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