Visitors to Britain drop 26% in biggest slump since Gulf War

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The Independent Online

The number of foreign visitors to Britain suffered its biggest drop since the Gulf War last month as the tourist industry continues to suffer after 11 September.

There was a 26 per cent fall in the number of visitors to these shores in October, compared with the figure for 2000, following on from the 23 per cent decline in the month of the terrorist attacks on America.

The British Incoming Tour Operators' Association (BITOA) said there were likely to be five million fewer people coming to Britain this year, but signs were that the trend was improving in November.

"While these are terrible figures, they are no worse than we expected following the dreadful events of 11 September," said the association's chief executive, Richard Tobias.

"There is, however, some evidence that November has been a little better and that consumer confidence is very slowly beginning to return."

Mr Tobias said the industry faced a difficult task to regain lost business and would need more help from the Government. "The Government has said it understands our plight but so far practical help has been very limited and far below the level the industry needs to make an effective and speedy recovery," he said.

BITOA's figures, based on foreign visitors who spent at least one night in Britain, showed that in the March-October 2001 period, overseas arrivals fell by 20.11 per cent compared with last year.

Those figures reflected the impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak on tourism, which the Government said yesterday had cost the industry more than £3 billion.

Kim Howells, a junior tourism minister, estimated the loss of revenue to the industry would hit £3.3 billion from March to October.

But he said the South-west and West Country had enjoyed some of the best autumn weather in 20 years, extending the tourist season and helping to recoup some of the losses.

"The West Country has enjoyed an Indian summer, which has extended the tourist season. This is helping to alleviate the loss of business due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

"In particular, it appears that senior citizens who would usually be heading for holidays in North America are cancelling and instead taking holidays at home."

Dr Howells said the impact of 11 September had been felt particularly acutely by members of the tourism industry in the capital.

"Reports suggest that the main impact of the drop in overseas tourists since the terrorist attack of 11 September has been felt in London rather than in the regions," he said.