Page last updated at 22:10 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Tourism chiefs fight economic woes

By Chiyo Robertson
Business reporter, BBC News

London RIB Voyages boat trip
License to thrill: London RIB Voyages takes tourists for a 007 river tour

As tourism chiefs from Botswana to Belgium gathered in London this week for the world's biggest travel industry event, they shared the same concern.

All the delegates at the World Travel Market want to protect their industry from a financial and economic crisis that is spreading from the developed to the developing world.

Charlie Matheson runs London RIB Voyages, a speed-boat operator on the Thames, nestling in the shadow of the Millennium London Eye.

A newcomer to the industry, he set up his firm in 2007, and with the dramatic change to the economic landscape he has had to rethink his business plan.

"It's the first time I've been in a downturn as a businessman," says Mr Matheson .

"I'm certainly having to plan a lot more, be a lot more creative with products I'm offering, things like the James Bond trip."

His 007-themed voyage takes tourists on a high-speed river trip past the headquarters of MI6, Britain's external intelligence agency, a landmark made famous in one of the Bond movies.

Mr Matheson believes that offering an ordinary cruise down the Thames would not be enough to pull in the punters.

'Secret weapon'

That view is shared by Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of Visit Britain, the UK's main tourism body, who said film and TV was a great way to promote a country.

At the end of the day, people will continue to holiday
Fiona Jeffery, chairman World Travel Market

"Images excite people and make them come and visit," he says.

But he added that the UK could make a virtue out of a vice - the faltering pound.

"Of course our secret weapon right now is the currency," he says.

"Its 27% cheaper for an American to come to Britain today than it was on 1 January, and 10% cheaper for a European."

Mr Rodrigues is keen to market this, hoping overseas visitors will see Britain as an affordable place to holiday.

This comes as figures show the number of overseas visitors fell 3% to 8.1 million during June through to August, compared to the previous three months, according to the Office for National Statistics.

And the amount of money these visitors spent fell too - down 2% over the period to 4.1bn.

Meanwhile, UK holidaymakers travelling abroad fell by 1% to 17.5 million over the summer.

'Obama effect'

At the bustling World Travel Market, rivalry between national tourist authorities is intense.

President-elect Obama
Kenya plans an Obama Route to capitalise on the president-elect's roots

Kenya's Tourism Minister Najib Balala said the government planned to spend $10m this year to market the country to the rest of the world, hoping to put the political unrest at the start of the year behind it.

"The general image of Africa is sometimes scary, in reality it is not," says Mr Balala.

"Most African countries are very peaceful, the people very friendly."

Kenya is hoping America's president elect, Barack Obama, will help lure more tourists, mainly from the US, with the "Obama Route" that will see several new tourist destinations opened up to explore his part Kenyan heritage.

"Obama was very candid about his nationality, we are going to take advantage of that," says Mr Balala.

But amid the buzz of the show, there is still a feeling of uncertainty.

"The economic crisis impacts all of us in different ways, " says Fiona Jeffery, chairman of the World Travel Market.

However, she believes holidays are the last thing we cut back on completely.

"People will probably reduce the duration of their holidays...at the end of the day, people will continue to holiday," she says.



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