Despite widespread media reports this spring that Great Britain's countryside has been devastated by the spread of foot and mouth disease, it is, indeed “open for business as usual,” according to Jill Harrington, executive vice president, Society of Incentive Travel Executives. Harrington and Edwin Griffin, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International, were among a delegation of 40 tourism and meeting officials who took part in the World Travel Leaders Summit in Britain in April, an event organized by the British Travel Authority in partnership with British Airways.

As of late April, the foot-and-mouth epidemic had passed its peak, and officials were predicting an end to the disease by summer, according to Rebecca Booth, director, Business Travel USA for the British Travel Authority, New York City. FMD does not pose a risk to public health, but precautions have been taken in the countryside to protect animal welfare and to minimize the chances of spreading the disease, which affects pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, and all other ruminants.

While life in U.K.'s cities has been unaffected, residents and visitors have been asked to stay off Britain's many footpaths and farms. All pubs, restaurants, museums, and other attractions in Britain's towns and villages are, however, open for business. Some major tourist attractions, including StoneHenge, were closed for a time, but reopened in April.

“We are unaware of any meetings or incentives that have cancelled as a direct result of FMD,” says Booth. “Some clients have altered their plans slightly. For example, one group was due to spend three nights in Gleneagles, and they extended their trip in London and cancelled their trip to Scotland.”

Those entering the United States from the U.K. may be asked upon disembarking if they have visited the countryside. At Boston's Logan Airport, for instance, passengers are asked to walk through a disinfectant if they have been to a farm in the U.K. or Ireland.

Two particularly good Web sites for information on foot and mouth disease are www.visitbritain.com or the official Ministry of Agriculture Web site at www.maff.gov.uk for information on infected areas.

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