Government-funded efforts to persuade overseas tourists to visit the whole of the UK rather than just London have "failed dismally," tourism and licensing minister Kim Howells has admitted.
With overall tourist number down by nine per cent last year, and more British holidaying abroad than ever before, Dr Howells' comments have spurred new calls for financial support for rural pubs and other businesses hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Although the situation is better this year, with early estimates suggesting figures will be four per cent down of forecasts, Dr Howells told MPs on the Commons culture select committee that half of the people who visited the UK from overseas last year did not go outside London except for day trips.
Dr Howells said London ought to be seen as a gateway location, with visitors encouraged to go to other areas.
"But I am afraid that both London and the other tourism boards have failed dismally to do this," he said. Mike Clayton, managing director of Cumbrian pub operator Jennings said the minister's comments echoed the company's experience this year as its pub tried to recover the ground lost by the closure of large parts of the countryside last year.
"Clearly, there was an improvement in visitor numbers this summer, but there would be - it couldn't possibly be any worse. However, there's plenty of evidence, certainly in Cumbria, that tourism hasn't recovered in anything like the numbers expected."