Britain's tourism industry bounces back from foot-and-mouth with record increase in visitors

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A number of historic attractions have missed out on the British tourism industry's recovery from the blows of the 11 September terrorist attacks and foot-and-mouth disease.

Overall, UK attractions enjoyed an 8 per cent increase in visitors in 2002 compared with the previous year. But the Tower of London (down 3.9 per cent), Canterbury Cathedral (down 3.5 per cent) and St Paul's Cathedral (down 6.7 per cent) all suffered from a continuing downturn in visitors.

A spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces said visitor numbers to the Tower of London had been hit by a drop in American tourists since the 11 September attacks.

"Last year our US numbers were down by about 13 per cent," she said. "I think that following September 11 people did not book trips, which affected last summer's figures. But we are still the UK's top heritage attraction. We are seeing big increases in European visitors and have been marketing very aggressively to domestic customers."

Other, newer attractions have proved more successful in recovering from the ravages of 2001. The Millennium Wheel - officially known as the British Airways London Eye - was the top admission-charging attraction last year, with 4.09 million visitors, 6.2 per cent up on 2001. The Eden Project had 1,832,482 visitors, an increase of 7.8 per cent.

Farm visits, which were severely curtailed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, rose by 46 per cent last year, while wildlife attractions (up 13 per cent), country parks (up 12 per cent) and gardens (up 11 per cent) all enjoyed healthy increases in popularity.

The free admission policy at museums and art galleries resulted in the Science Museum in London welcoming 94 per cent more visitors, while two other London museums, the Victoria and Albert (up 84 per cent) and the Natural History (up 74 per cent), also enjoyed massive rises.

The Queen's golden jubilee celebrations last year helped boost the number of people visiting tourist attractions with royal connections. Statistics from the VisitBritain organisation show Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey each welcomed 7 per cent more visitors than in 2001, while at Windsor Castle numbers were up by 3 per cent.

The spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces added that visitor numbers at Kensington Palace had rocketed by 177 per cent, largely because of the popularity of an exhibition of royal wedding dresses to mark the Queen's golden jubilee.

Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain, welcomed the overall upturn in visitor numbers. "We have some of the best attractions in the world and it is greatly encouraging to see that people have been out and about enjoying what they offer," he said.

"From the high-profile new attractions to the smaller rural attractions, visitors have been discovering that England provides us with great experiences right on our own doorstep. These improvements are excellent news for our countryside and urban destinations."

Blackpool Pleasure Beach was the top free-admission attraction but visitor numbers, at 6.2 million, were 4.6 per cent lower then in 2001.

Richard Caborn, the Tourism minister, said: "The huge wealth of visitor attractions across the UK shows just how much we have to offer tourists from home and abroad. Attractions are at the very heart of our tourism industry's continuing recovery; these positive figures bear that out."

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the UK, worth approximately £76bn in 2002. The 23.9 million overseas visitors who came in 2002 spent £11.9bn in the UK. The industry employs about 2.1 million people - 7 per cent of all those in employment in Great Britain. There are more jobs in tourism than construction or transport.

The top overseas market last year was the US, followed by France and Germany.