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16 April 2004

International visitors flock to Britain despite terrorism fears

International visitors have been heading to Britain in ever-greater numbers since the beginning of the year, despite terrorism fears and exchange rate fluctuations.

Provisional data from the International Passenger Survey has shown that during January and February, more than 3.5 million international visitors came to the UK – a 10 per cent rise on the same period in 2003.

Tom Wright, chief executive of Visit Britain, said: “This is evidence that pent-up demand for Britain is being released and, barring further international incidents, industry prospects continue to improve.

“If visitors continue to flock to Britain at this rate, VisitBritain’s forecasts of a 3.3 per cent increase in visits and a 3.4 per cent rise in spending this year look achievable,” he said.

Visits to the Britain and London Visitor Centre in Regent Street are also up 7 per cent, while more than 1.6 million users looked at during January, February and March – a 40 per cent increase.

Stephen Dowd, chief executive of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association (BITOA), said: “The positive trend of recent months continued in February with all sectors reporting increases in visitor numbers and forward bookings.

Bookings held firm after the dreadful events in Madrid and it would seem that the public now understands that terrorist activity can happen anywhere, at any time, and they cannot put their lives on hold indefinitely.”

Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), however, said that London hotels were feeling the effects of the Madrid bombs, though there were positive signs of improvement. Outside of London though, hotels were experiencing occupancy levels not seen since 2000.

He also added that although the strong pound against the American dollar could still impact arrivals from North America, signs of recovery for the US economy give the association confidence for the future.

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