Sat, Mar 05, 2011 - Page 7 News List

UK touts weather as tourist draw

Reuters, LONDON

The British government made tourism a key part of its economic recovery yesterday, looking to dispel what it called a myth that Britain is a wet, cloudy country offering poor value.

It also set out its plans to remove other bugbears of visitors by making it easier to obtain entry visas, reducing the amount of time spent at passport controls and speeding up airport check-in times.

“You can do most things in Britain for 11 to 12 months of the year. Our weather is substantially better than many people think,” tourism minister John Penrose said at the launch of its tourism policy. “The government sees it [tourism] as a key element in our plans to grow the economy and get Britain back on its feet.”

The 10-month old Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition believes Britain’s tourism industry could help the economy at a time of public spending cuts, drawing on the opportunities offered by high-profile celebrations including Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton next month and next year’s Olympics.

Tourism is currently Britain’s fifth-biggest industry, worth about £90 billion (US$146 billion) to the economy.

As part of its strategy, the government will push to make entry visa applications quicker, simpler and more convenient, without compromising national security. It will also share visa centers with other friendly nations, reducing the vast distances some people have to travel in larger developing countries.

It also wants to increase the number of online applications from 35 percent to more than 90 percent by the end of next year.

The government’s blueprint also calls on airlines and airport operators to work on reducing the need for long check-in times, while it will introduce more e-Passport gates at entry ports to speed up the passport control process.

Officials will discuss with -airlines, airport operators, passenger groups and regulators on how to collect and publish data on transit times. The UK Border Agency will publish details of its performance against national targets.

The government hopes the measures will help generate 4 million extra overseas visitors during the next four years, bringing in an extra £2 billion in visitor spending.

It also wants to entice Britons to stay at home for their holidays and will consult on lengthening the tourism season by moving the May 1 Bank Holiday, or Labour Day, to earlier or later in the year, potentially drawing opposition from unions.

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