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Tourist Influx Makes British Islanders Restless

August 27, 1990

LONDON (AP) _ The islanders are restless. Hordes of tourists are pouring into their hallowed sanctuaries, intruding upon their ancient ways, corrupting them with cash, snapping their pictures.

It sounds like a familiar lament from some exotic corner of the old empire, but these islanders are the British, and many are fed up with the more than 17 million tourists passing annually through their small and crowded realm.

The problem has become serious enough to merit a government task force. The English Tourist Board has produced a leaflet that appeals to visitors, foreign and domestic, to behave themselves.

″Always remember you are the guest: Show consideration for residents and their environment,″ the leaflet begins. ″Respect local laws and customs.″ It is called ″20 Tips for Visitors.″

It advises tourists not to photograph the locals without permission; to refrain from touching valuable tapestries, vases and paintings; avoid wearing high-heeled shoes in historic buildings; and dress appropriately in holy places.

Although William Davis, chairman of the Tourist Board, insisted in launching the leaflet that ″We don’t want to nag,″ some of the tips have a distinctly nannyish tone.

Tourists are advised to say please and thank you, and when complaining, to ″do it politely.″

″Don’t argue with staff who seek to enforce rules,″ it says. ″They are only doing their jobs.″

And, inevitably, ″Don’t push, shove or jump queues.″

Davis says the leaflet does not mean to single out foreigners as the sole offenders - it isn’t being translated into other languages - but it comes at a time of heated debate about whether tourism is good for the nation.

Foreign tourism generates $42 billion a year for Britain and employs 1.5 million people, making it a prime money-earner as heavy industry declines.

It is spreading well beyond the familiar landmarks of London. Foreign tourism in Oxford rose 44 percent between 1983 and 1988. Bath recorded a 38 percent increase, York and Canterbury 33 percent.

Internal tourism, measured by the 109 million overnight hotel stays in 1989, also is a vast industry.

Some of the people under invasion are protesting, and this has prompted the government to announce a task force to identify problem areas.

″I travel around the country a lot and have noticed a growing tension about tourism, and we are seeking a way of heading off a backlash which could damage the entire industry,″ said Ivor Manley, the Employment Department official chosen to head the team.

″In some areas, like Portsmouth or Bradford, a museum is welcomed as a badge of civic pride, but in others such a plan would cause resentment,″ he said at a news conference. ″They do not want tourists in their town and will not build for them.″

Officials say they want to spread tourism to less familiar territory, such as Liverpool or the Romney Marshes of Kent county. Rather than head straight for Westminster Abbey, how about seeing the Victorian cotton mills of Lancashire, or going down into a Yorkshire coal mine?

Davis of the Tourist Board worries about ″the growing tendency to use the word ‘tourist’ as a term of abuse.″

Phrases such as ″tourism plague″ and ″hordes,″ he protests, are ″totally and utterly inappropriate to describe visitors whom we ought to be making feel welcome in this country.″

Lately, arguments are being heard that tourism is more trouble than it’s worth.

″Tourist coaches congest the central area, and park with impunity,″ Alfred Sherman wrote in The Sunday Telegraph. ″Public buildings are disfigured by displays of gimcrack souvenirs. The tawdry nightlife which mass tourism evokes makes our city centers and suburbs even more vicious.″

The Times of London concluded the solution was to ration tourism by making the main attractions ″charge prices high enough to deter at least some potential visitors.″

It is ″an uncongenial concept,″ the paper admitted, ″yet both elitists and populists must accept that only some form of rationing can avoid the destruction of places that all the world wants to visit.″

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