Simon Calder: Best to file the tourism deficit under 'lost cause'

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The Independent Online

Captain Cameron's mandarins in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have their work cut out in persuading British travellers to holiday at home. Despite the ever-more stressful and strike-prone experience of travel by air, we have an apparently insatiable desire to leave our sceptre'd isle.

Since the first charter flight departed Gatwick 60 summers ago, the Mediterranean package holiday has become a brilliantly co-ordinated way to deplete Britain's balance of payments.

While the UK has great cities, superb countryside and cheerful resorts, no amount of cajoling – in the shape, for example, of the £50 spending limit in the 1970s, more expensive passports and the rapidly rising air passenger duty – seems to deter us. The Prime Minister would be advised to file this one under "lost cause".

Mr Cameron is absolutely right that Britain punches below its weight in attracting overseas visitors, but that is largely because governments have never taken this invisible export seriously; we do not even have a ministry with "tourism" in the title.

Furthermore the UK imposes tough visa rules on the nations with the fastest-growing, travel-hungry middle classes, including Russia, India and China.

Add in the imminent rise in VAT, which will make us more expensive, and an air passenger duty structure that appears designed to export stopover traffic to Amsterdam, Paris or Dubai, and the multi-billion-pound tourism deficit looks here to stay.