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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Election delay blow to tourism trade
Oblivion rollercoaster at Alton Towers
Alton Towers, the UK's top paid-for tourist attraction, is open
The decision to delay the UK elections is another problem for a tourism industry already reeling from the impact of foot-and-mouth disease.

Tour operators say a one-month delay in the election date is "disappointing" and warn that any further postponement could be devastating.

The domestic tourism industry is estimated to be losing 120m each week as a result of the disease.

The prime minister confirmed on Monday that local elections scheduled for May will now be held on 7 June.

Speaking to BBC News 24 just moments before the statement, Richard Tobias, chief executive of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, spoke of his disappointment.

Richard Tobias, chief executive British Incoming Tour Operators Association
Richard Tobias: "Disappointing"
He said: "For the last four weeks we've been saying to overseas visitors that Britain is open for business.

"More and more attractions are opening every day."

An election delay would "not help" get this message through, he said.

But a one-month postponement was not "hugely significant".

He said he would much more concerned if the elections were put back until October.

"That would be very bad news indeed - effectively saying to overseas customers that Britain is closed for 2001."

The confirmation of the rumoured election delay came shortly after 1100BST on Monday.

In making the announcement, Tony Blair said he had taken into account the impact on the tourism industry.

He stressed there would be no indefinite delay, recognising this would be "bad for tourism" and "highly damaging to the national interest".

UK Tourism in 1999 (BTA figures)
Worth 64bn a year
Employs 1.9 million people
Overseas tourists spent 12.5bn
Domestic tourists spent 48bn
1.85 million jobs in UK tourism
7% of all UK jobs are in tourism

The British Tourist Authority (BTA) does not believe the election delay would have a major impact on tourism.

A spokeswoman said: "I don't think people base their holiday decisions on politics but on what is open, what they can go and do and see."

She said BTA staff had worked throughout the weekend to set up a new website promoting attractions which are open in Britain.

"We are concentrating on getting the information out... to counteract all the negative international coverage there has been."

The BTA has worked with English Heritage, the Historic Houses Association and the National Trust to draw up a list of some 600 properties which will be open from next weekend.

Of the UK's top 10 historic houses and monuments, only Stonehenge has remained shut.

"In total, approximately 60% of all the properties that would normally be open at this time of year will be open," said BTA chief executive Jeff Hamblin.

Walkers in the Lake District
Many tourists visit the Lake District to go walking
"It proves that there is still a huge amount to see and do here, despite the restrictions that are currently in place in parts of the country because of foot-and-mouth disease," he said.

However, the Lake District has already been badly hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

The area depends heavily on walkers and with off-road tracks closed due to the disease, many visitors are staying away.

John Walker, of the Cumbrian Crisis Alliance which was set up in the wake of the outbreak, said businesses were already going under.

He said: "People have lost everything. Businesses are going under two, three, four at a time.

"It's absolutely terrible."

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See also:

01 Apr 01 | Other Sports
Cheltenham Festival called off
28 Mar 01 | Scotland
Tourism industry given cash help
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