Penny Cobham, aka Penelope, Viscountess Cobham, sits on the
board of VisitBritain, and she arrived in New York from London a
week before that route was the subject of Page 1 stories in
newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Lady Cobham sat down with
editor in chief Arnie Weissmann to discuss airline security,
exchange rates and other bilateral issues affecting tourism.
Q: Are all of the flight cancellations making
A: To be frank: So be it. These are alarming
times, and I feel reassured that people are taking action to keep
Q: But aren't you surprised that it's British
Airways flights that are under such close scrutiny?
A: I think that's a reflection of the close
relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. and shows there's good
communication. But keep this in perspective -- thousands of people
are crossing the pond on hundreds of flights in both directions
every day. It shouldn't be too surprising that the odd flight will
Q: The exchange rate between the dollar and
pound is at 10-year highs, which makes the U.K. a relatively
expensive destination. That's got to hurt during a year when
everyone's hoping for a transatlantic recovery in tourism.
A: We've had considerable challenges at the
Exchequer. VisitBritain can't lobby the chancellor directly, but we
are a member of the Tourism Alliance, which is a child of British
Among its members are some pretty big players, who do have
communication with the Exchequer. But sadly, the strength of the
pound revolves around issues that are much larger than tourism
Q: Do you have any reason to believe that the
pound will weaken any time soon?
A: We're coming up to an election year in 2005,
and the government has got to keep [the effects of a strong pound]
in mind. Transportation is an issue to us, and the pressures will
be considerable to invest in public services like transportation.
The pound may be tempered by that.
Q: Given your role with VisitBritain, what went
through your mind when you watched the protests during President
Bush's visit to London last November?
A: It was a war protest, not an anti-American
protest. I respect people who feel strongly about issues, but I
think [the war protesters] represent a minority in this case.
The protest was confined to a small portion of London, and was
short in duration. [The protesters] made their point, but it didn't
really affect life in London. American visitors still get a warm
To contact Editor-in-Chief Arnie Weissmann, send e-mail to