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Tourism drying up in Britain

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Scott Jagow: Britain is experiencing a drought in tourism, specifically a significant drop in American and Canadian travelers this year. We’re joined by our man in London, Stephen Beard. Stephen, what’s behind this?

Stephen Beard: Well tourism chiefs here reckon that the weak dollar and strong pound is probably the main factor. The dollar broke through the $2 to £1 level in April, at the beginning of this period that’s being measured, so American visitors having survived the shock of this atrocious exchange rate, then have to cope with very high prices for everything. It’s a very expensive city so it’s a double whammy.

Jagow: Right, so besides the weak dollar you also have to spend ridiculous amounts of money on hotels, on food, on everything else.

Beard: Absolutely.

Jagow: Now Stephen, what about Heathrow Airport? I’ve been hearing a lot about. . .

Beard: Ah Heathrow.

Jagow: . . . the Heathrow Hassle.

Beard: The Heathrow Hassle, yes. I mean there’s no doubt that this is a very important factor too in deterring a lot of American visitors. I remember last year, which was a very bad year for Heathrow, there was a string of problems — security scares and strikes, problems with baggage and so on — and American visitors at Heathrow seemed to be the most upset by the chaos and the disarray at what is actually the world’s busiest international airport. There was indeed a recent poll indicating that at the world’s five busiest airports, Heathrow ranked last on time performance.

Jagow: But let’s talk about what Britain might be doing about this. I mean if they are seeing a dramatic fall in tourism, are they worried about it?

Beard: They are. I mean the strong currency is undoubtedly a problem for Britain at the moment. However, countries like Switzerland which have an extremely strong currency for decades, still manage to attract large numbers of visitors. You do it with efficiency. You do it by giving the tourists what they want. And I suppose you know you do it initially by making sure that your airports put off the visitors as soon as they arrive.

Jagow: All right, Stephen Beard our correspondent in London, thanks

Beard: OK Scott.

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