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U.S. Tourists Return to Britain

March 26, 2002

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LONDON _ The daffodils are in bloom, the River Thames glistens in the early spring sun and American tourists are flocking back to their usual haunts at the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace.

Six months after Sept. 11′s airborne terrorist attacks, the American tourists are the most welcome sign of spring that Britain’s benighted tourism industry could hope for after a drastic drop in trans-Atlantic visitors.

Busily clicking away with their cameras and spending their welcome dollars, Americans are clearly glad to be here. Some admit to being a little nervous about flying, but not enough to keep them at home.

``I believe in living; I’m afraid of flying but I overcome it with my love of going,″ said Vera Bell, 72, of Gardendell, Ala., still full of verve after a morning tramping around the Tower of London.

In addition to Sept. 11, hotels, restaurants and the thousands of small businesses tied to tourism were badly hurt last year by foot-and-mouth disease, a livestock epidemic that posed no threat to humans but shut down large areas of Britain’s loveliest countryside. The U.S. recession also cut into tourism.

Now the shock has faded. Flight security has improved. And the Americans are back in the air.

``Right now, everything is full,″ said Paul Lampl, British Airways spokesman in New York, saying that flights between New York and London are jammed.

That is due, in part, to a happy coincidence, since Easter this year falls within the winter low-fare season, Lampl said. But, he said, bookings for the summer look encouraging, as well.

``It’s still not back to where we were pre-9/11,″ Lampl said, ``and business travel is also a little slower in coming back.″

Emily Wirtes of Point Clear, Ala., had a specific reason for wanting to come to Britain.

``When they played our national anthem at Buckingham Palace after Sept. 11,″ she said, ``that was the most outstanding thing I’ve ever seen.″

Like many other Americans, she was touched by the gesture of Queen Elizabeth II at a time when expressions of friendship were especially meaningful.

Saul Korn, here from New York with his family to visit relatives, shared the sentiment.

``The United States and Great Britain have always been very close,″ he said, and ``there was never any question of not coming to England. We’re brothers. We always have been.″

Joseph Fabio of Cambridge, Mass., wasn’t worried about flying.

``We felt there was enough security in place,″ he said. The Sept. 11 attacks were ``emotionally and psychologically horrific,″ he added, but they didn’t mean flying was more dangerous, statistically.

Tourism accounts for 7 percent of British jobs and usually pumps more than $90 billion into the economy each year.

The nearly 5 million Americans who visit annually are the largest single group. Their impact is multiplied by the fact that they are big spenders. For every pound ($1.43) a domestic tourist spends, an American visitor spends about six pounds ($8.58), the government said.

The Americans, of course, are outnumbered by Europeans, who can get here by train, chartered bus and cheap, no-frill flights. If you stand for five minutes at the entrance to Westminster Abbey you’ll hear French, Italian, Spanish, German, along with the accents of Texas, Illinois, Georgia and New Jersey.

Taxi driver Alan Davies, driving all over London every day and back and forth to the airports is in a perfect position to take the pulse of tourism.

The verdict? ``There’s many more tourists.″

Gesturing toward scores of tired-looking people draped around the statuary at Trafalgar Square, he said, ``If you’d have looked there in October, it was empty.″

``People may be a little bit frightened of flying but they’re enticed back by the fact that the airlines are offering good deals,″ he added. ``My mother-in-law just came back from Texas and she said the plane was absolutely full.″


On the Net:

British Tourist Authority, http://www.visitbritain.com