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04th August, 2013.
Britain's tourism board wants overseas visitors to consider other parts of the UK during their visit, such as: (from top left, clockwise) Glen Coe, Suffolk pubs, Lincoln Cathedral and Chester. Photo: ALAMY

Tourism board to launch drive to lure visitors away from London

The nation's tourism authorities are to launch a drive to get more overseas visitors to visit the rest of the country, amid fears that the industry has become unbalanced in favour of London.

New research for Visit Britain has shown that of the 31 million who visited these shores last year, a record number half went to the capital alone, never venturing outside the M25.

The rest of England welcomed 13 million tourists, Scotland 2.2 million and Wales 0.9 million, prompting the organisation to make attracting visitors beyond the capital's draws of Buckingham Palace and the West End its new priority.

The initiative will see the delights of country pubs, Stonehenge and cathedral cities such as Winchester and Lincoln promoted in campaigns abroad.

It will also attempt to convey to potential visitors that Britain is a comparatively small country and relatively easy to get around and that they should not worry about driving on the left hand side of the road.

Research conducted among holidaymakers from US, France, Norway and Germany found there was a "general lack of knowledge" about other destinations outside of London, confusion as to which nations made up the British Isles, and 'nerves' about driving on Britain's roads.

A quarter said it was "too expensive" to travel across Britain, but nearly 30 per cent said they simply did not what it was like elsewhere in the UK or what was on offer. One more traditional foreign view of Britain appears to have faded, however, as only one in ten said the food was "poor".

Sandie Dawe, the chief executive of Visit Britain, said London's place on the world stage had been a huge draw, but that the rest of the country had huge potential to benefit.

"London is so popular and so dominant that when people think about Britain it's such a strong draw. It's a huge benefit, but also a challenge.

"The Olympics increased the interest in Britain around the world. We just have to make sure that some of our other fantastic assets are not put into the shade by the brilliance of London's light."

She added: "We have got some fantastic heritage, history and culture outside of London. When tourists think about romance, luxury, relaxation, France and Italy will pop into their heads before they think about Britain. But we have got some beautiful cathedral towns, such as Winchester, Salisbury, York, Chester or Lincoln."

Visit Britain offices abroad are to be given a "Beyond London" dossier of suggestions for destinations to promote. Among the "hidden gems" which will be highlighted are Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, which was used as Hogwarts in parts of the Harry Potter series of films, the more than 2,000 miles of navigable canals and rivers, and the country pubs of Suffolk, which Visit Britain hopes will become a "foodie" destination.

The tourist authority is also likely to step up its work with the English Premier League. Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United's Japanese footballer, has already extolled the virtues of Britain in a video for Visit Britain and the popularity of the league is already bringing in football fans from countries such as Norway and Belgium.

Visit Britain is also to step up efforts to exploit opportunities presented by low-cost airlines which use regional airports for direct flights to Europe.

Although most passengers are British tourists, the airports have already seen an increase in Europeans coming to new destinations, with examples including Liverpool proving a hit for Spanish visitors.

Ms Dawe said far more could be achieved with the right strategy. "With places like Italy, people around the world would know Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Naples," she said.

"But when it comes to Britain they may say Windsor or Bath but that would be it. If you look at places such as the north-east there are beautiful castles and coastal walks. Suffolk is absolutely beautiful, there are places like Lavenham and Long Melford and there is great potential in East Anglia as tourists often tell us they are interested in country pubs, and the British way of life."

She added: "A large part of it is simply educational. When I speak to people in Brazil, India or China, you are talking to people from huge countries who cannot quite gather how small our country is. I tell Brazilians you can fit most of Great Britain in between Rio and Sao Paulo, and that it would take the same time to get to Scotland and the Highlands as it would to fly between the two cities. They have no idea."

Edinburgh is Britain's most popular single destination outside London, with 1.3 million foreign visitors last year. Other leading destinations include Manchester, which had 932,000; Cambridge, 398,000; York, 199,000; and Windsor, which had 182,000.

Source: The Telegraph UK

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