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The United Kingdom is enjoying a tourism boom and leading its main competitors in attracting more overseas visitors...
The United Kingdom is enjoying a tourism boom and leading its main competitors in attracting more overseas visitors, national heritage secretary Virginia Bottomley told MPs today.

Appearing before the national heritage select committee inquiry into tourism, she said:

'The latest available figures for our share of the world tourism market show that in 1995 we reversed the declining trend of the past decade. Our share increased from 4.4% to around five per cent and the growth in our dollar receipts from overseas visitors was 26% - substantially larger than that of our main European competitors.

'For the first time in five years we have a strong upward trend in tourism to the United Kingdom from overseas, bringing great benefits to the country's economy.

'This change coincides with a period during which the government has been making greater efforts than ever before to encourage the tourism and hospitality industry to improve its competitiveness and meet customer demands.'

Mrs Bottomley said the tourism industry is now worth £37bn a year to the country's economy. It provides employment for seven per cent of the workforce directly and many more indirectly.

She said: 'The growth potential of tourism is enormous. It is forecast to be the world's biggest industry by the Millennium. Tourism will continue to provide a major source of employment because its product is the welcome and service provided by its people.

'We are at a turning point in our performance. Last year was exceptional. We attracted more overseas visitors than ever before and their spending was a record in real terms. I welcome that.

'This year we are seeing encouraging signs of growth even on those outstanding figures for 1995. The number of visits in April to June was 14% higher that during the same period last year.

'On the home front, domestic tourism was also strong in 1995, with an estimated 121 million trips - more than ten per cent up on 1994.'

Government initiatives include:

-- the creation of the departmentof national heritage, making tourism a major part of a Cabinet minister's brief

-- 'Competing With the Best', published in March 1995, which identified the quality of the UK's tourism product as a priority

-- publication of research into what customers want from their hotels and advise from benchmarking study into how small hotels can achieve it

-- measures to develop closer links with the tourism and hospitality industry, including the appointment of two advisers seconded from the industry and the creation of a Ministerial advisory forum

Mrs Bottomley said she had been the first Cabinet minister to lead a tourism trade mission to Japan and met tourism operators in the United States to encourage more visits to the United Kingdom.

The British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board are undergoing a transformation. The BTA concentrates on key markets likely to produce the best return and the ETB takes a more strategic role in helping the industry to develop and market itsproduct.

The department is directly responsible for many of the heritage and cultral attractions which bring tourists to the United Kingdom.

Mrs Bottomley said: 'I am launching a new initiative to ensure that all parts of my department and the bodies it sponsors 'think tourism'.

'I have asked the chairman of the BTA, David Quarmby, with the chairman of our main heritage and arts bodies, to re-examine how we present our greatest assets, our heritage and culture, abroad.

'There are enormous benefits to be derived from concerted action of this kind. This is another example of my determination to work with the industry and everyone involved in tourism to ensure we make the most of the great potential it offers.'

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