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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
UK tourism industry in crisis
By BBC News Online's Jorn Madslien.
Forget about the weather: It is not sunshine that is needed to bring more tourists to the UK, but rather things like en-suite bathrooms in all hotels, a tourism industry conference was told this week.
"They come for the castles, the culture, the landscape, the heritage. And these things have not changed," he added.
But the tastes of tourists have changed, making it essential for the industry to upgrade to meet their requirements.
"The average needs to be better, and the downright poor performers need to be much, much better," said the government minister in charge of the tourist industry, Tessa Jowell.
"The entire industry - the good, the bad and the ordinary - needs to accept that constant change and improvement are essential to meet the demands of the future. Twenty years ago, an en-suite bathroom was a luxury, today it's a necessity," Ms Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, reminded the audience of tourism industry officials.
Bed & Breakfast
Being told to spend money to upgrade standards is not expected to be greeted with much warmth by owners of small, rural Bed & Breakfast businesses whose priorities are more immediate.
"We are not able to pay our bills, it's as simple as that," she told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today program.
"Our cottage, which normally would be let right through from Easter to the end of October, we've got nobody in now until the end of July," she said.
Ms Hague is not alone. Surveys by the local community office show that tourism businesses in the area have seen trade fall by 40-70% since the end of February, and mass bankruptcies are expected this autumn.
The problems faced by rural B&B owners contrast starkly with some very upbeat statistics.
The UK remains the fifth most popular holiday destination in the world - after the US, Italy, France and Spain - and it attracts £16bn in foreign exchange each year, according to the organiser of the conference, the Confederation of British Industry.
"Not bad for a sector which forms perhaps 6% of gross domestic product," she said.
But these statistics belie the industry's troubles.
At a time when global tourism and spending by tourists are expanding fast, Britain's share of the world market appears to be slipping even faster, said Joint Hospitality Industry Congress chairman, Jeremy Logie.
In 1990, foreign visitors and British people who were tourists in this country spent £4bn more than British tourists spent abroad.
By 1999, this surplus had been turned around to a £4.5bn deficit - in part because it has become much easier and cheaper for people to leave the UK during their holidays.
That was before the foot-and-mouth outbreak slashed visitor numbers to the UK, down 21% in April alone.
"Farming is in a very, very, very serious crisis, but a lot of attention, a lot of money, a lot of political power and clout is going into sorting it."
"The forgotten industry six months to a year down the line, will be the British tourist industry," he said.
The conference called for a range of improvements, including better methods for gathering consistent and useable statistics on how tourism in the UK operates.
And it called for the government to get involved and to offer assistance.
But Ms Jowell was unable to offer much help.
"I can make few commitments today," she said, insisting that "the industry must lead".
However, she said she would "listen to the industry" and vowed to "argue for it" once it had made a "robust case".
Tourists at home
The foot-and-mouth epidemic could cause spending by tourists to be cut by £7.5bn in 2001 and may reduce the UK's GDP by £2.5bn, according to a report by Nottingham University Business School's Christel DeHaan.
But London has also been hard hit, with spending by foreigners expected to fall £1.3bn this year, Mr DeHaan's report predicted.
That is serious, Mr Jones said, because business travellers - many of whom come to London - are not only big spenders, accounting for nearly a third of the cash flowing into the country.
In addition, "40% of all business travellers come back with their families to enjoy what they've seen while they were on business", Mr Jones said.
This connects the urban and rural tourism businesses since many people who visit London initially will go on to see the countryside.
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