Tourism leaders plan ‘business as usual’ offensive

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Tourism chiefs are planning a “business as usual” public relations offensive to correct the impression gaining currency abroad that some of London’s visitor attractions are closed and disruption from the bomb attacks is restricting freedom of movement in the city.

A summit meeting on Wednesday of public and private sector tourism specialists heard that according to anecdotal evidence from overseas tour operators that tourists were less concerned about safety and security in London than access.

Ken Kelling of Visit London, the tourism organisation funded by the Greater London authority, said: “There is a perception that things aren’t open, or there is a disruption to the city. We need to look at this perception and how to start to address it.”

The summit, attended by British Airways and Euro-star as well as representatives of the Association of British Travel Agents and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, heard reports that tourism-related sectors were returning to normal after a sharp downturn last Thursday and Friday and a slight recovery over the weekend.

But Mr Kelling said that it would take time for the longer-term impact of the bomb attacks on tourism in London to be felt. “In the aftermath of these things there is a rush to look at the impact. The true impact may not come out till later.”

While there had been some immediate cancellations, the main concern of tour operators was whether the attacks prompt a downturn in new bookings.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest low-cost airline, said Wednesday that bookings fell about 10 per cent in the four days after the attacks. The airline took about 24,000 fewer bookings compared with previous weekends, losing sales worth €960,000 (£660,000).

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive, said: “We expect if there are no other attacks that bookings will be back to normal by this weekend. I doubt whether London has ever been a safer place to visit.”

Mr Kelling said there were some cancellations of school groups but the beginning of the school holidays would reduce the impact of the lost business.

The US market, the most lucrative for UK tourism, appeared to be unaffected in the days after the attacks.

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