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UK loses ground in tourism market: Reduction in VAT rate demanded

BRITAIN'S share of the pounds 210bn international tourism market is slumping, according to the English Tourist Board, which released its annual report in London yesterday. Britons are deserting English resorts in their millions for foreign holidays and are costing the industry billions in lost revenue and tens of thousands of jobs.

Last year Britain ran a deficit of pounds 3.1bn in tourism. The last time Britain ran a surplus was 1985. The decline in Britain's share of the international market has also been steeper than in the rest of Europe. The tourist board estimates the loss of market share cost the English industry about pounds 2.5bn in 1993 alone.

The industry is Britain's second largest, employing 1.5 million people and is worth pounds 33bn. The ETB predicts there will be 20 million visits to Britain this year, worth pounds 11.5bn, and making it the sixth largest earner of international tourism in the world.

Adele Biss, chairwoman of the tourist board, said: 'This is an industry of strategic importance to the nation - job creating and affecting a wide range of economic activity.'

To reverse the relative decline, Ms Biss called for a reduction in the VAT rate, which she said was making British holidays unnecessarily expensive. She also called for more co-ordinated marketing schemes to attract visitors from both home and abroad.

Ms Biss attacked the Government's decision to reduce the ETB's budget. She said: 'The Seventies babies whose first holidays were on the original package trips to the Costas are now taking their own children on holiday. Most of them don't know what a holiday in England is like and we have to tempt them back into discovering what we have to offer.'

The ETB was critical of the 'under-valuing' of England as a tourist destination by Britons. Ms Biss said: 'Much of our tourism infrastructure is dreadfully under-utilised compared with our Mediterranean counterparts. For the vast majority in our industry it is not possible with such low productivity to make an adequate profit and charge competitive rates to the customer.'

Ms Biss blamed part of the lack of competitiveness on ageing seaside resorts which she said had tarnished the image of the English holiday to the average Briton.