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Volume 13: debated on Monday 16 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he has evidence of any change in the current year in the way Great Britain is seen by North America as a tourist destination.

In the first eight months of this year there was a small but welcome increase in the number of visitors to Britain from North America, compared with the same period in 1980. In my view, that is an indication that we are no longer regarded in North America as a high-priced tourist destination. I am also pleased to say that the American Society of Travel Writers has voted Britain the most friendly country in the world for American tourists and their favourite European vacation country. This view is supported and augmented by the market research carried out for the British Tourist Authority in the United States.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. Will she consider whether she can increasingly publicise the fact on both sides of the Atlantic so as to encourage more tourists and to encourage our tourist industry, which is the salvation of many of our unemployment problems?

My hon. Friend is right. This cannot be publicised too often. Britain is almost certainly the best buy for American tourists and, for that matter, for tourists from much of the rest of the world. With a strong dollar and with very competitive pricing, the outlook for the travel trade next year is very optimistic. The United States is a huge market, as I learnt on a recent visit, and one with a great deal of potential which is yet to be exploited fully. We should all do what we can to ensure that that market is realised to the fullest extent.

Does the Minister agree that Scotland is an important element in attracting visitors from North America, and especially from Canada? That being so, is it not a retrograde step that British Airways have seen fit to withdraw their flights from both Toronto and New York? Will the right hon. Lady and her colleagues try to reverse that despicable decision?

I agree entirely with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question or statement. Of course Scotland has a very important role in attracting tourists here. As for the air services to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I understand that Sir Freddie Laker has applied for the route. It is hoped that no vacuum will be created.

As one of the most expensive items for tourists is hotel costs, will my right hon. Friend say where we stand in the world league table? Are our hotel charges still the most expensive in Western Europe?

I assure my hon. Friend that that is a complete myth. It is not true now, if it ever was, that London hotels, for example, are expensive compared with those of our main competitors. A Financial Times survey about 18 months ago showed us near the top of the league. We are now 25th in the league table. Moreover, some 30,000 hotel rooms are available in London alone for between £8 and £25 a night, including breakfast. By any yardstick, that is a very good buy.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the over-valued pound had a fairly dramatic effect on our tourist trade and that, happily, the trend is being reversed?

To what extent are high internal fares a disincentive to people coming here from abroad?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said about an over-valued pound. There is a stronger dollar today. That is how I prefer to view the matter. That is very helpful to the tourist industry.

The tourist industry has had a difficult year, for a variety of reasons. But the optimism for the future is a tribute to the industry for responding to increased competitive pressures at a time of rising costs.

The hon. Gentleman referred to high travel charges. There are some highly advantageous packages on both British Rail and British Airways available to tourists purchasing their tickets abroad from the BTA and other sources. Travel is by no means a problem. The competitive coach services introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) when he was Minister of Transport have helped keep fares for tourists even lower.

What view does my right hon. Friend take of recent moves by the English Tourist Board, the Wales Tourist Board and the Scottish Tourist Board to become more actively involved in the promotion of their respective countries overseas? Is it not about time that we looked again at the Development of Tourism Act 1969 in the light of any changes that there may have been in the last 12 or 13 years?

I welcome any initiative and any action abroad on the part of any tourist board to promote tourism here. Our main tourist bodies do a very good job in this respect. I was able to see them in action recently in the United States.

My hon. Friend asked me about the Development of Tourism Act. I am afraid that I require notice of his question.