UK is OK for tourists


The British Tourist Authority (BTA) says it is working with key tourism partners in the region to push Britain to the forefront of the potential Middle East visitor's mind as a major destination in Europe.

BTA's regional office in Dubai said it plans a major media and marketing campaign to channel tourists back to Britain with the support of its key partners.

The initiative is part of a worldwide "UKOK" campaign to promote Britain as the place to visit this year.

BTA has joined forces with the travel and tourism industry in the country for the multi-million pound campaign to win back tourists and overcome the "disastrous effects of last year's foot and mouth outbreak and September 11", said the authority.

In the region, BTA said local travel trade companies have pledged to work with it to promote and sell Britain as the number one European tourist destination for Middle East visitors.

"We are using some key travel trade events in the region, including the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2002 in Dubai, to launch a number of BTA's new initiatives including Garden Campaign, City Culture and Sport Tourism, as part of our promotional activities designed to boost the number of Middle East visitors to Britain," said regional media and public relations manager Mohammed Mansoor.

"ATM will also witness a large number of our British partners with plenty of value-for-money travel offers and holiday packages to the UK."

The £5 million ($7.1 million) UKOK campaign which targets several overseas prime markets, is supported by more than 1,000 tourism businesses, which are offering amazing deals to entice visitors.

The hundreds of discount deals are also featured on BTA's website

The website, which also features an Arabic gateway which is updated regularly by the Dubai office, has more than 80,000 pages of travel information about Britain.

For potential regional visitors, the recently established Britain Visitors Centre in Dubai is also a major source of information about Britain.

"With its experienced Arabic and English speaking travel consultants, the centre has attracted more customers from the general public, media members and travel trade seeking travel information and services about Britain," said Mansoor.

A wide range of free travel brochures are available with information on every area of the UK and a 61" monitor constantly screens videos highlighting destinations and tourist attractions throughout Britain. Touch-screen monitors are also available providing instant access to the BTA's website.

The BTA says the UKOK campaign will contribute to the recovery of at least half of the £2 billion lost last year by the inbound tourism industry.

"We already have millions of pounds worth of special travel and accommodation offers on the site and hope to encourage UK suppliers to provide many more," said Mark Miller, BTA's general manager for the Middle East and Indian Sub-Continent.

"The campaign has a strong reassurance message, guiding overseas visitors back to Britain's key strengths of heritage, countryside, cities and sport, all of which will be enhanced this year by the unique celebrations of the Queen's Golden Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games.

"It's going to be very exciting year to visit Britain and one which will represent excellent value for money."

Visitor arrivals to Britain slumped seven per cent last year compared to 2000 while December alone saw a sharp fall of 17 per cent to 1.5 million visitors compared to December 2000, latest figures by Britain's Office for National Statistics showed.

During the period from January to December 2001, compared to 2000, overseas visitor spending fell by 14 per cent to £11 billion. Spending by overseas visitors in December decreased by 19 per cent to £76 million compared to December 2000, making December 2001 a particularly bad month.

The BTA said the figures were in line with its expectations and came as no surprise given the impact of both the foot and mouth outbreak and the aftermath of September 11 attacks on inbound tourism to Britain and global air travel.

From the region, Britain welcomed 446,000 visitors from Middle East in 2000 who spent £757 million and the BTA said it expected 2001 to have shown a slight decrease of five per cent, which it will try and convert into a small growth this year.

It said its efforts to encourage visitors from the region to explore new tourist destinations throughout Britain were also paying off with more Middle East travellers now visiting new destinations like the Lake District, Birmingham, Bath, Manchester, Liverpool, Torquay, Newcastle, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

"We will continue to work closely with our travel partners in the region as well as the National Tourist Boards of England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland to promote new destinations, with wide range of value-for-money tourism products ranging from accommodation to tourist attractions," said Mansoor.