Despite widespread media reports 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 disease 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 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 of Britains' many footpaths and farms. All pubs, restaurants, museums, and other attractions in Britain's towns and villages, however, are 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 U.S. from the U.K. may be asked if they've visited the countryside upon disembarkation. At Boston's Logan Airport, for instance, passengers are asked to walk through a disinfectant if they say they've been to a farm in the U.K. or Ireland.
"We are not getting involved in any immigrations issues for visitors coming into the U.S.A.," say Booth. "Each port of entry is deciding how best to manage this situation.
"Currently we are in a "re-assurance" mode with incentive houses," she adds. "They are concerned about the safety aspect of traveling to Britain and we must ensure that they feel safe there. We will in the medium term be looking at offering "value" to all incentives.
The delegates to the World Travel Leaders Summit visited different parts of Britain during their stay and met with a number of local dignitaries , including Tony Blair at his residence, Chequers; with Chris Smith, MP, at No. 10 Downing Street, and HRH Prince Philip at Windsor Castle.
"Our media has distorted the true picture - a disservice to the public by not properly informing them," says Griffin of MPI. "It was good to see the unaffected farm life in comparison to those TV reports. I will be telling my 20,000 members to investigate for themselves what Britain can offer."