eaders of the news in Travel Weekly
and on TWcrossroads know that we have been covering Great Britain's
hoof-and-mouth crisis in considerable detail since the outbreak was
reported in mid-February.
We've attempted to keep the industry informed about what
hoof-and-mouth is, what it could mean economically to the U.K. and
to travel suppliers here, and how it could affect this year's
Britain is the No. 1 international leisure destination for
Americans. We Yanks contribute mightily to Britain's $96
billion-a-year tourism industry, and countless FIT and escorted
tour operators in the U.S. stand to be affected by travel
restrictions resulting from the outbreak.
It's possible that the hoof-and-mouth story intrigues me more
than the average person, but that's because I've been covering
Britain for Travel Weekly for the better part of eight years,
making more than 20 visits to the destination.
The British Tourist Authority sent high-ranking officials from
London to New York last week in an effort to shore up the 2001
season. They said Tony Blair had given them $4 million for a
targeted campaign aimed at getting out the message that Britain is
open for tourists, including the countryside, so come on over.
But I'm not sure that's the right message.
I opened up my New York Times on Saturday morning to find yet
another story on hoof-and-mouth on the front page. This one
reported that the epidemic is officially out of control and
probably won't peak until June -- maybe -- according to Britain's
It carried a photo of a man holding a gun to the head of a
sweet-looking cow. Bad enough for the cow, to be sure, but it was
the sad face of the man that got me. That picture and others like
it are continuing to be printed in newspapers all over the world
almost every day.
We all like to tell each other that travel is about people. Tour
brochures promise we'll "meet the locals." Suppliers go to great
lengths to crowd their groups into rural pubs and set up visits to
manor homes where the lord or lady of the house will join the group
for tea. It's not just monuments and the museums anymore --
everybody wants to feel a local connection. Everybody wants to
experience "the culture."
And that's why the BTA message needs work. "The culture" is in
pain, at least it is in the countryside. Going to Britain while
this epidemic is raging might be a lot like showing up for a
long-planned party at the home of friends even though you know they
have just had to put down the family dog.
Livestock herds aren't pets, of course, but it's a feeling of
profound loss just the same, and it spills over into the wider
What the BTA ought to do is quickly pull together an urban
tourism campaign with a message that specifically encourages city
vacations. The launch of new city packages, in partnership with the
BTA, might be something U.S. wholesalers should consider. Being
proactive now, with a message that acknowledges the seriousness of
the outbreak and promotes responsible tourism, could salvage what
might otherwise turn out to be an extremely disappointing season
for a whole lot of people.
Rural tourism is going to suffer this year with or without an
urban promotional campaign, there's no doubt of it.
And there's very little to be said for going to a party where,
try as he might to keep his chin up, the host discreetly dabs at
his eyes and wonders what became of his dog.
Donna Tunney is executive editor of Travel Weekly, Travel
Weekly Crossroads and Travel Management Daily.