Africans constantly complain about the persistent negative images of the continent in the Western press. The moment there is a bit of violence in a remote African state and the whole continent becomes 'a dangerous place to visit'. Because of the troubles in Zimbabwe, tourists are cancelling their trips to South Africa, East Africa and even, so we gather, countries such as Morocco which are thousands of miles away!
We have often taken issue with editors of Western papers, requesting them not to tar the whole continent with the same brush, to show discrimination in their reporting and to make it clear to their readers that by and large, Africa is one of the safest tourist destinations in the world. They shrug their shoulders and say "that's the way it is, bad news crowds out good news."
Now, at least as far as Britain is concerned, the boot is on the other foot. Anyone who has had access to newspapers, radio or television will know the UK has been going through the wars. First there was the BSE or 'mad cow' disease, then a series of horrific train crashes followed by the floods and now the country is in the grip of a foot and mouth epidemic. Britain's country side is littered with corpses of cattle, sheep and pigs. The air is saturated with the smell of burning animals and enormous pits are being dug to bury whole herds.
Britain's farming community has been hit very hard indeed. But of even greater concern to the government is the impact of the negative publicity generated by these calamities on tourism.
Britain is the fifth largest tourist destination in the world. Tourism earns around [pounds]166n annually. Millions of jobs depend directly on the tourist invasion which begins around this time of the year. The countryside, particularly around the scenic areas of Devon and Cornwall and the Lake District are heavily dependent on tourism -- both local and from abroad.
The British government and the tourism industry have been deeply worried that negative stories and apocalyptic pictures appearing in US and European media will scare away visitors. At the time of writing this piece, bookings for the usually busy Easter period were well down and cancellations were flooding in. Potential visitors want to know if people can catch foot and mouth, how much food to bring with them, do they need vaccinations, is the water safe to drink and a host of similar questions.
Those of us living in London and other cities cannot understand what the fuss is all...