This year Britain is expecting a record eleven million tourists to visit, and London is feeling the strain.
This year Britain is expecting a record eleven million tourists to visit, and London is feeling the strain. At least nine million people are expected to spend time in the capital where resources are being pushed to their limits.
SYNOPSIS: The visitors come from all over the world, because London's now considered one of the trendy places to spend holidays. Many leave again, bewildered and angry at the number of tourists who are thronging to the city. The first thing many face is the severe congestion at Heathrow airport.
At times, Heathrow is chaotic, with an average of 850 flights leaving or arriving each day. There's pressure at the moment to build a fourth terminal which would increase the passenger handling capacity by another eight million to 38 million a year. But that's not likely to happen for another six years and until then tired passengers and staff have to cope as best they can.
The British Tourist Authority says that more than 40 per cent of the arrivals leave finding accommodation until after they get to London -- and, for many, that's a mistake. Some end up travelling to church halls or makeshift camping sites because there's simply nothing else available.
The no vacancy signs can be a depressing reminder that more people should arrange their accommodation before they arrive. The foreign visitors this year are also facing increased competition from Britons who are staying home for holidays.
But with the confusion comes the cash. Tourism is now Britain's fastest growing foreign currency earner and this year the income's expected to top two billion pounds sterling. About 10 per cent of that will be spent in Oxford Street -- London's most popular shopping centre. The biggest spenders are the Americans followed by the Arabs, Germans and Australians.
Of course the favourable currency exchange rate attracts vast numbers of visitors -- but it is the Queen's silver jubilee year and the historical pageantry is still a popular reason for visiting. Tourists booths are doing rapid business.
Traditions like the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace attract millions, while Londoners complain that their city is being overrun by foreigners. But, without them, the city would lose an increasingly valuable income which it would find extremely difficult to replace. The experts say industrial growth is slowing and the dynamic tourist industry keeps costs down.
Organisations like the British Tourist Authority try to encourage people to spend more time outside London. They're relatively successful, but millions still believe London's the cultural capital of the world.