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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Half a million slaughtered animals are waiting to be disposed of"
 real 56k

Dina Long of the American Society of Travel Agents
"Initially the perceptions were quite negative"
 real 56k

Michael Cantlay, Scottish Tourist Board
"In America in particular, people are concerned that they may catch foot-and-mouth"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
UK tour by world travel chiefs begins
Burning pyre of carcasses
Images of carcass pyres have discouraged foreign tourists
International tourism leaders - now on a lightning tour of the UK designed to combat misconceptions surrounding foot-and-mouth disease - have given Scotland the thumbs up.

The 21-strong group of US, Canadian and Japanese travel reprentatives say they have enjoyed a rain-soaked day visiting the Scottish Highlands and cruising on Loch Ness.

It is part of a four-day summit of tourist leaders organised by the British Tourist Authority in a bid to quash a widespread misunderstanding that visiting the UK poses a risk to human health.

Meanwhile, a decision on whether the government will vaccinate hundreds of thousands of cattle, currently in winter quarters, is likely to be taken by the end of the week.

Crisis in the UK
Cases on Tuesday: 11
Total confirmed cases: 1,355
541,000 animals awaiting slaughter
400,000 carcasses awaiting disposal

Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, has advised the Ministry of Agriculture that meat and dairy products from vaccinated livestock could safely enter the food chain with no harmful effect on humans.

US travel representatives have said tourists with "short attention spans" fear they can catch BSE from foot-and-mouth disease.

Brian Stack, vice-chairman of the US Tour Operators Association, estimated as many as 100,000 Americans could cancel their UK holidays this year.

Koji Shinmachi, Janet Anderson, and Richard Copland, at Heathrow
Japan's Koji Shinmachi (top) and Richard Copland, of the US, join Janet Anderson
He said: "Most Americans have mixed up foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease.

"Their attention span is not huge and all they know is there's a problem and they see lines of burning animals on the TV and are simply afraid to come."

The Japan Association of Travel Agents estimated about 20% of the 600,000 Japanese who visit Britain every year could cancel.

Managing director Koji Shinmachi said: "Many people are scared because they think foot-and-mouth is the same as mad cow disease... it's important for us to get the message across that the UK is safe."

Visit has helped

Also on the tour was Peter Tauck, co-president of a travel company in Connecticut, who said that business at Tauck World Discovery was down by 15% to 20%.

He said: "People have been worried about the food...there has been a lot of misinformation about foot-and-mouth."

Japanese representative Kotaro Kogi from the Global Youth Bureau said the visit had helped.

"When I get back to Japan, I will be telling the media that it is safe to come here."

Mr Kogi added: "It is unfortunate that the weather is not very nice today, but I have enjoyed the visit."

Billions of pounds at stake

Tourism minister Janet Anderson, who met the group at Heathrow, said the misconceptions were particularly strong in the US, which sends four million visitors a year, between them contributing 2.5bn to the UK economy.

Their attention span is not huge and all they know is there's a problem and they see lines of burning animals on the TV and are simply afraid to come

Brian Stack
US Tour Operators' Association
She said: "If we lose this market those visitors may well not come here again."

Prime Minister Tony Blair has already appeared on television in the US and elsewhere trying to dispel notions that much of Britain is sealed off or that there is a danger to human health.

A second group of about 20 delegates from France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Norway and Switzerland are due to begin a tour of North Wales, Dartmoor and Cornwall on Wednesday.

Disappointing Easter

Despite ministers high-profile efforts to encourage rural tourism over the Easter period, the English Tourism Council said many rural beauty spots had seen low visitor numbers.

However, theme parks, seaside resorts and out-of-town shopping centres reported a busy weekend.

Beaulieu car museum in Hampshire, attracted 8,500 over five days - 20% up on last year while Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, enjoyed a 10% increase.

New fears in Northern Ireland

Cornwall's recently-opened Eden Project reported an "exceptional" weekend, while those Peak District paths which were accessible were "very busy", said Downing Street.

The number of confirmed cases in England, Scotland and Wales currently stands at 1,355.

Veterinary officials in Northern Ireland are examining a fourth possible foot-and-mouth outbreak in the region.

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Blair ponders vaccine move
17 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
Animals burned on NI disease farms
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