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The BBC's Karen Hoggan
"Tony Blair has been among those getting out and about"
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English Tourism Council's Mary Lynch
"The perception is that people cannot do what they want to do"
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Association of British travel agents' Judith Watson
"Nobody wants to do the wrong thing"
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Friday, 13 April, 2001, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Britons head for the sun
Valencia's Arenas beach in Spain
Many holidaymakers prefer this to Skegness
Hundreds of thousands of Britons have flocked out of the country for the Easter holidays, seeking sunshine and a break from foot-and mouth disease.

A record 1.75 million people are ignoring the government crusade to prop up badly hit rural tourism as they spend their Easter break abroad, many in Spain.

The number of British holidaymakers travelling abroad has been on the increase, with Easter this year being no exception

Steven Bath
But while UK airports were packed, the numbers of European tourists coming here has dropped drastically.

Ports are seeing one-way traffic, with Newhaven in East Sussex registering a 26% increase in numbers going to the continent while traffic in the other direction has dropped 60%. More than 500,000 will pass through Dover.

Those Britons who do stay behind may be tempted to choose roads over the stricken railways this year.

A Highways Agency spokesman said: "There has not been as much traffic as we expected. Some are busy but there have been no hold-ups anywhere and coastal areas have had no real problems.

"It has been very unusual for a Good Friday. People have left the country or haven't bothered going away because of the foot-and-mouth restrictions on the countryside."

The Highways Agency has suspended most of its roadworks on motorways but Railtrack is continuing with one of the largest Easter engineering programmes for many decades to tackle the continuing delays.

Many chose to head for shopping centres, theme parks and city centres, which all reported a busy day.

The outlook over the weekend is bits of sunshine and patchy rain at times

Hannah Parry
BBC Weather Centre
Rural areas - hoping for a crucial boost as many business struggle because of the foot-and-mouth crisis - reported a cautious start to the holiday weekend.

The Lake District is enjoying only a "moderately busy" time, in stark contrast to previous Easters, said David Hewkin, manager of Windermere Tourist Information Centre, despite footpaths being open.

Avon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall all reported being at about 90-95% of normal business, according to Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism.

People who have been in contact with farm animals in the last two weeks are being asked to postpone their visit while others are warned to wear sensible footwear for walking over disinfected matting.

But with forecasters predicting cool and showery weather, many sun-seekers have gone to the Mediterranean.

The Canary Islands, mainland Spain, Majorca and Ibiza are the most popular short-haul destinations for package holidays, with Cyprus and Tunisia also selling well.

Low temperatures

Long-haul travellers are mainly heading for Florida and the Caribbean, while city breaks to such destinations as Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome and Prague are proving popular.

About 330,000 people will fly from Heathrow, the UK's biggest airport, over the holiday period. About 240,000 will leave from Gatwick, 80,000 from Manchester and 35,000 from Luton.

Manchester's figures are up 5%, Bristol's 15% and Luton's have been boosted 19%.

"Year on year, the number of British holidaymakers travelling abroad has been on the increase, with Easter this year being no exception," said Steven Bath, president of the Association of British Travel Agents.

Those choosing to stay in Britain for the holiday period can expect only average temperatures and plenty of cloud as the weather worsens over the weekend.

Temperatures in the north could be as low as 8C (46F), while the thermometer in the south is only expected to climb to a maximum of around 13C (55F).

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See also:

12 Apr 01 | UK
Weekend of rail repairs
11 Apr 01 | Scotland
Fury at minister's foreign holiday
22 Apr 00 | UK
Rain hits holiday weekend
21 Apr 00 | UK
Delays hit Easter exodus
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