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Tourism minister Janet Anderson MP
"Many of my constituents are showing real solidarity to the people in Cumbria"
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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Blairs 'may swap Tuscany for Lakes'

The Blairs may abandon foreign holiday plans
Tony Blair and many government ministers will "probably" be taking their holidays in the UK as a gesture of support to the beleaguered tourist industry, it has been revealed.

Tourism Minister Janet Anderson spoke about the prime minister's holiday plans in a live BBC News Online webcast on Wednesday.

The British Tourist Authority is naturally pleased that government ministers are considering showing their sympathy for Britain's tourism industry

BTA spokesman

Asked whether people could expect Mr Blair and other ministers to say: 'We're not going to Tuscany this year, we're off to the Lake District', Ms Anderson replied: "Yes, I think you probably can."

Pressed if she and her colleagues, including the prime minister, would be "setting an example" and holidaying in Britain, she said: "We certainly are, there's so much to see in the countryside it would be a great shame to miss it."

Number Ten

Downing Street later said the prime minister was not focused on holidays - and might not have time to go away at all.

At the same time, however, it was reported that some Labour MPs had been urged not to go abroad on holiday - with one apparently told not to visit the south of France over Easter.

Tourism chiefs, desperate to reverse losses from the foot-and-mouth outbreak, estimated at 120m a week, welcomed Ms Anderson's comments.

"The British Tourist Authority is naturally pleased that government ministers are considering showing their sympathy for Britain's tourism industry by holidaying here during this difficult time," a spokesman said.

Janet Anderson
Janet Anderson: Said ministers would set an example

Earlier, Mr Blair had sought to give a boost to rural businesses in the run-up to Easter by renewing his appeal for footpaths and attractions outside farmland to be reopened.

He was responding to opposition leader William Hague, who repeated a request for Mr Blair to consider implementing an emergency loan scheme.

"There are problems for many rural businesses, whatever efforts we make to tell people that there are many places in the countryside they can visit responsibly," Mr Hague said at Commons question time.

But Mr Blair insisted that "the single most important thing... is to get business and tourism back into the countryside".

The message to people abroad is that Britain is very much open for business

Chris Smith

He told Mr Hague: "I hope you will join with me in urging those county councils and local authorities that could re-open a substantial amount of attractions and footpaths, which don't go anywhere near farmland, to do so.

"Opening up the countryside again, and making people understand it is happening, is the single best way to get tourist activity back," he said.

The prime minister told MPs a survey showed 80% of the UK's 15,000 top attractions were now open, despite the number of foot-and-mouth cases now exceeding 1,000.

Earlier on Wednesday, Culture Secretary Chris Smith declared Britain was "open for business" as he launched a website to encourage tourists not to be put off by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

'Serious battering'

The website, called OpenBritain, gives up-to-date information on thousands of attractions across the UK.

Mr Smith said: "Tourism has undoubtedly taken a serious battering over the last month from foot-and-mouth."

He blamed British visitors staying away from the countryside in the early days of the epidemic and overseas tourists now cancelling some of their bookings, particularly for the crucial summer period.

Ms Anderson, who recently visited the United States on a trip aimed at reassuring potential visitors, told BBC News Online that people had been influenced by "real scare stories" - with some believing that food and water in Britain were contaminated.

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