Tourism to UK at its lowest level since 1988

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OVERSEAS tourism to Britain fell by nearly 1.5 million last year to 16.66 million - its lowest level since 1988, according to the annual report of the British Tourist Authority published yesterday.

The number of US visitors showed a dramatic decline, dropping by 26 per cent from 3.75 million to 2.8 million. A record number of visitors from Europe last year - 11 million - rescued Britain's tourist industry from what could have been an even more disastrous year.

Michael Medlicott, BTA chief executive, said that in spite of the problems, 1991 could still be considered a successful year. 'Despite the after-effects of the Gulf war and despite the recession, we still attracted more than 16.5 million visitors who spent more than pounds 7bn.'

During the first six months of this year, the number of overseas visitors has increased by 12 per cent - while the number of visitors from North America was up by 32 per cent and the number of visitors from Western Europe was at its highest ever. The BTA estimates that the total number of overseas visitors to the UK in 1992 is likely to be 18 million.

William Davis, BTA chairman, yesterday told critics from the tourist industry to 'stop complaining, get out your cheque books'. He invited the industry to underwrite more of the annual pounds 7.5m cost of overseas promotion. 'There is nothing to be gained by wringing our hands or blaming the Government,' he said.

The BTA, which streamlined its operations after a government review three years ago, seems likely to face fresh political pressure to cut costs. Mr Davis said that with tourism now the responsibility of the Department of National Heritage, the BTA was facing a new examination.

Flight Seekers, a tour operator specialising in seat-only flights to Mediterranean countries, has ceased trading, the Civil Aviation Authority announced yesterday.

The authority said it had called in its bond of pounds 162,000 and was arranging for passengers to fly out until midnight tonight. Holidaymakers due to travel before midnight should go to the airport as arranged, it said.

The CAA would repatriate the approximately 300 holidaymakers abroad at present and provide full refunds to about 2,900 customers with advance bookings.

Flight Seekers, based at Loughton, Essex, is the latest holiday firm to cease trading. Earlier this week Holimarine and Pennant Boats, part of Mowat, the leisure and property group, went out of business and Land Travel collapsed in July.

Yesterday Touche Ross, the Mowat receivers, said the two subsidiary companies would continue to operate as normal until the end of October, safeguarding nearly all of this year's 58,000 holidays at Holimarine and Pennant centres. Touche Ross also said there had been 'very considerable interest in the businesses from potential buyers'.