BTA reports 12% increase in U.S. arrivals for '97

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BOSTON--Americans flocked to Great Britain in 1997, with arrivals up 12% compared with the previous year, the British Tourist Authority said.

The boost pushed total foreign arrivals up 1%--to a record 25.5 million visitors, the BTA added. A further 9% increase in U.S. visitors is expected for 1998, it said.

The strong U.S. figures are partly the result of the relative strength of the dollar, which only weakened slightly during the last year from $1.63 to $1.68 to the pound, officials said.

Another factor in Britain's popularity stateside is a 14% increase in airline capacity during the last year, a BTA spokesman said. He said much of the increased service will continue to operate into the winter because of the growing popularity of Britain in what was once called the off-season. "There used to be a bell curve in travel that went way up in summer, but now it is intense all year," he said, adding, "Our winter capacity will be increased over winter of last year by between 7% and 9%."

Virgin Atlantic Airways increased transatlantic service the last 12 months out of New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Orlando, Fla., a spokesman said, adding that "London hotels have always been expensive but air fares are a bargain." As a result, Virgin Atlantic Vacations is able to offer long-weekend packages, called London Jaunts, for less than $500, including air, he said.

Boston-based Insight International posted an 11% increase in travel to Britain in 1997, over what was already a record year, said president Nigel Osborne. He credited steady prices--which have remained at just over $100 a day for three years--for the strong numbers.

Admitting that bookings fell off in the fourth quarter of 1997, he said, "the first three quarters were so strong that they are carrying us through." As to 1998, Osborne said, "I predict modest gains because of a tremendous increase in air service from [places] such as Denver and Chicago, which previously had limited access."

Dennis Savage, senior vice president at Morristown, N.J.-based CIE Tours, said the boom in tourism to Great Britain is a reflection of the overall growth in tourism to Europe from the U.S. The company posted a 12% boost in bookings to Great Britain, Savage said, and he predicted that CIE would increase prices between 2% and 5% next year to keep pace with fluctuations in the exchange rate.

Meanwhile, the BTA reported a 1% dip in tourist arrivals from the rest of Europe, which translates to 17.2 million people. Arrivals from Asia rose 2%, but the financial crisis there is expected to result in a 7% drop in 1998, to 3.38 million tourists.

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