Britain earmarks $4M to rebuild image in U.S.

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NEW YORK -- Armed with $4 million in promotional funds to revive the U.K.'s image in the wake of the hoof-and-mouth outbreak, British tourism officials embarked on a 48-hour media blitz in New York.

"We want Americans to know that Britain is open for visitors [and] we need to clear up misconceptions about hoof-and-mouth," minister of tourism Janet Anderson told reporters at a briefing March 21.

Anderson, who was scheduled for interviews with 12 major media outlets, said her message was simple: "Humans cannot get it, our food is safe to eat and the only places you cannot visit in the countryside are farms," she said.

The goal is to head off revenue losses from tourism, which, Anderson confirmed, are costing travel-related industries up to $200 million a week.

Jeff Hamblin, chief executive of the British Tourist Authority in London, said he was conferring with local tourist offices in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and would shortly announce details of the marketing campaign.

Meanwhile, on March 20, 120 of the country's 180 National Trust historic sites re-opened to visitors, and Anderson said she expected many private mansions and castles to follow suit. Forty new cases were confirmed in Britain on March 21 and the first confirmed case of hoof-and-mouth was reported in the Republic of Ireland March 22.

Anderson said that "contrary to the many news reports here in the U.S., the countryside is not closed. You can still go almost anywhere; you just have to stay on the paved roads."

The minister also addressed the televised images of animals being brought to slaughter in order to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease, which is not usually fatal to animals but reduces their economic value.

"One percent of Britain's livestock has been destroyed to prevent the spread," Anderson said, "But we get the feeling that Americans think the [countryside] has been turned into a funeral pyre."

Hamblin said that 30% of the consumer calls coming into the British Tourist Authority office in New York "concern questions about hoof-and-mouth."

"As far as we can tell, we're not getting a lot of cancellations, but there is a delay in booking. If this continues, of course, it's going to be a problem."

Cities will not gain from the problems in rural areas, said Hamblin, "because people are concerned about coming to Britain, period, not just one part. But when the recovery begins, I think cities will be the first to benefit."

He said he was speaking with heads of trade organizations such as ASTA and the U.S. Tour Operators Association to make sure their members had the necessary information to provide their clients.

A daily update on which attractions are open to visitors is found on the British Tourist Authority Web site at www.travelbritain.org.

As for when the crisis will end, Anderson said once new cases stop appearing, farmland and any area that is within three miles of livestock will be safe for visitors after 30 days.

The last outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Britain occurred in 1967 and lasted seven months.

In 2000, 4 million U.S. travelers visited Great Britain, which is the top international leisure destination for Americans.

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