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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 15:08 GMT
UK struggles as tourists stay at home
Christopher Kelly, 11, with Tom Sharp
Christopher Kelly, 11, son of a New York firefighter, meets Tom Sharp, the Chief Yeoman Warden at the Tower of London
After Monday's air crash in New York, Americans are shying away from flying abroad more than ever. UK tourism, already floored by foot-and-mouth and the effects of the 11 September attacks, is now expecting an even tougher winter.

By the end of 2001 the British Tourist Authority (BTA) expects visitor numbers to have fallen by 25%.

"People who would have been put off by 11 September will have been made even more nervous," BTA spokeswoman Jo Leslie told BBC News Online.

Vacancies sign
Restaurants and hotels have felt the knock-on effects of the US tragedies
American tourists are extremely important to the UK economy.

Last year, four million visited Britain, spending a whopping 2.7bn - about a fifth of the UK tourist industry's total revenue. This year, only three million are expected.

'Winter trade is usually brisk'

Ms Leslie said the winter months would usually be a time of brisk trade, with 817,000 US visitors to the UK expected between October and December.

About 70% of these would spend their time in London, doing Christmas shopping, going to pantomimes and looking at the festive lights.

The impact on West End shows, attractions such as the Tower of London and Madam Tussaud's, and the city's restaurants and hotels, has been huge.

The fall has been so dramatic that it is now possible to buy tickets for hit musicals such as Cats and Les Miserables for 25 - tickets which were like gold dust only a couple of months ago.

London Tourist Board spokesman Alex Brannen said it had been a "very difficult year".

He said: "We're forecasting that, in a worst case scenario, London will have lost 1.5bn by the end of the year."

Honeypots

Other popular winter destinations for US tourists were described by Ms Leslie as "honeypots" - historical cities such as York, Stratford, Edinburgh and Bath, and areas like the Cotswolds and the Highlands.

Princes Street in Edinburgh
Princes Street in Edinburgh: US visitor numbers have dropped around the UK
Although they were offsetting poor US visitor numbers with increased European and domestic tourism, they were also suffering.

Block bookings by American tourist groups are down 40% at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

This, of course, is having huge a knock-on effects on other industries.

Just a week ago ceramics group Waterford Wedgwood cut more than 1,200 UK jobs - citing a lack of American tourists buying its goods as a major cause.

Fighting back

Tourist officials have been fighting back. Centres such as Edinburgh have been diverting their marketing towards European and domestic tourists.

London has organised a "London Love In" week, with hotel deals, the start of free museum entry for adults and special events such as lantern-lit tours of Hampton Court Palace.

Mr Brannen was "cautiously optimistic" that next year would be better - not least because of the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

He said: "Pageantry and history is the main reason for American visitors coming to London. So we're hoping that that will be a big draw."

Beefeaters at the Tower of London
Tourist officials hope to lure visitors back with pageantry
Ms Leslie said the strong pound meant Britain was expensive for tourists, which did not help.

She said: "Particularly as the US was going into recession as well - prices and the strong pound were already causing problems. That's something we've got to tackle."

BTA is putting together a "reassurance campaign" for North America, which will focus on the predictable and comforting nature of a visit to the UK.

Tourism officials also hope to lure US visitors with bargains, discounts and deals.

But the average American's reluctance to travel is so strong at the moment that it may take more than money off coupons to tempt them into crossing "the pond".

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Business
Further blow to troubled airlines
23 Oct 01 | Business
US tourists stay away from London
09 Nov 01 | Business
Tourism slump stretches to 2005
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