UK tourism looks east after pounds 10bn record year

Selling Britain abroad: Industry faces increased challenges as soaring revenue disguises nation's loss of share in world market
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Britain is playing host to record numbers of tourists, who are spending increasing amounts. But unless it can tap into the new tourism markets, its share of international receipts will continue to slide - last year it fell 2 per cent, equivalent to a loss of pounds 4bn.

According to the British Tourist Authority (BTA), a 39 per cent rise in Eastern European tourists and a 14 per cent rise in the amount spent by Asian visitors helped increase tourist revenue to a record pounds 10bn last year.

Most of this was spent on hotels (36.1 per cent) and shopping (24.5 per cent) with a further pounds 2m spent on eating out.

At the launch of its annual report yesterday it said Britain's tourist industry now employs 1.5 million people and is a large and growing proportion of GDP, amounting to 5 per cent of export earnings.

According to Adele Biss, chairman of the BTA, it is also "the right kind" of export as it does not absorb a high proportion of imported raw materials and is spread geographically and economically throughout the country.

But she warned yesterday that if Britain were to halt its gradual slide in worldwide share of tourism receipts, it needed to lure new visitors from a mushrooming selection of alternative destinations and capitalise on its reputations for both tradition and youth culture.

"Tourism is expected to be the world's largest industry by the year 2000, but sustaining Britain's share of this huge growth industry will not be easy," said Ms Biss.

"In the immediate future, the BTA ought to establish a stronger presence in new markets such as Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia where international travel is growing at three times the world average."

According to Anthony Sell, the BTA's chief executive, the lowering of Britain's world share has occurred primarily because the British economy has not been growing as fast as those of the rest of the world. To address this and capitalise on the burgeoning Asian market, he said the BTA had undertaken a number of surveys to examine how other nationalities viewed Britain, and how they chose their holiday destination.

According to one, the Japanese saw the average British couple as 50-year- old beef- eating "squares" who were obsessed with politics and sticklers for punctuality. British lifestyles were considered "simple", "plain" and "solid" and described by the colours grey and brown. But they were impressed with the scenery.

"Some Japanese visitors said they wanted to go to sleep for an afternoon in Hyde Park. They considered they had ruined their own country," Mr Sell said. "Others said they wanted to go walking around the London suburbs and look at people's gardens - because that was something they didn't have at home."

Peter Rabbit was also a popular draw, with many Japanese citing the Beatrix Potter books as their introduction to the English language and subsequently choosing Cumbria as a holiday destination. But cultivating London's image as a city for hip young people has also been a success. As London emerges once more on to the cutting edge of fashion and popular music, the tourist authority finds that the Asian youth market is increasingly interested in Britain - and increasingly lucrative.

"By the year 2000, the average age in Asia is going to be 23. That's a fast-growing market. So in Hong Kong we conducted a campaign with Virgin with the Cantonese star Faye Wong dressed up as a Beefeater," said Mr Sell.

"The campaign ran for three months this summer and cost us pounds 60,000. The 2,900 extra visitors this brought us generated an extra pounds 24m."

Who visits the United Kingdom

Visits Expenditure

1994 % 1994 %

thousands change pounds m change

Scandinavia 1,326 +5 501 -3

Benelux 2,238 +4 521 +7

Central Europe 3,232 +6 1,124 -2

Southern Europe 4,445 +7 1,267 -5

Eastern Europe 797 +30 483 +39

Irish Republic 1,677 +15 581 +32

Total Europe 13,859 +8 4,635 +5

North America 3,550 +4 2,066 0

Latin America 283 +31 190 +17

Africa 602 +9 628 +13

Middle East 602 +12 700 +2

Australia/NZealand 670 +15 465 +9

Far East 1,399 +15 1,132 +14

Total World 21,034 +8 9,919 +6

Source: British Tourish Authority