By Angela Jameson
Local tourist boards and hoteliers around the country have tempered recent newspaper reports that suggest the UK is undergoing a boom in tourism during the summer heatwave.
The reports followed the release of the latest figures on tourism by the Central Statistical Office. These showed overseas visitors to the UK in the first five months of 1995 increased by 11% to 8.2 million and spending by overseas visitors up 17% to more than £3.8b.
While the figures were greeted enthusiastically by Adele Biss, chairman of the British Tourist Authority (BTA), and heritage secretary Virginia Bottomley, a Caterer survey of independent hotels and regional tourist boards discovered that growth outside London and other large tourist destinations was less dramatic.
Ron Morrison Smith, chief executive of the West Country Tourist Board, agreed that the number of overseas visitors to the region was up, but added: "We have lots of spare capacity. We can't afford for people to think we are full."
David Andrews, head of development at Yorkshire & Humberside Tourist Board, said he expected room occupancy to reach 55% this year, compared with 52% last year.
Andrews emphasised that these figures represented only a small shift. "They are certainly better than last year. But they are not really approaching pre-recession figures," he said.
Although figures for the first part of the year indicated that volume of business and turnover were up in Yorkshire and Humberside, he added that profits were still being squeezed by heavy discounting.
Many tourist boards have found that there are huge variations within their regions. Traditional "honeypot" destinations continue to attract large numbers of visitors, but other areas still have problems. For example, Stratford-upon-Avon was having an excellent season, while the Cotswolds was not faring particularly well this summer, spokesmen for the tourist boards revealed.
Bill Thow, owner of the Town House hotel in Glasgow, said that although there had been more visitors to the city, the number of rooms had also increased due to several newly built hotels. This had led to crippling winter discounting, from which smaller independent hotels were feeling the effects.
Other trends, detailed by all regions, included the growth in late bookings and short breaks from domestic visitors, and the keeness of American visitors to avoid London on their second or third visit to the UK.