BRITAIN is turning to Hong Kong to help reverse an alarming decline in the United Kingdom's share of the world tourism market. British Tourism Authority (BTA) chief executive Anthony Sell, on a whistle-stop visit to the territory, said the government-funded body would boost its representation in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan in a bid to woo more Asians to spend their holidays in Britain. 'In Malaysia and Thailand, we don't have any representation at the moment. In South Korea and Taiwan we already have representative offices, and we are going to strengthen those offices,' said Mr Sell. 'We are committed to more image advertising. The awareness of Britain in Asia will be increased.' BTA revealed last month that the British tourism industry had suffered a GBP3.1 billion (about HK$38.97 billion) deficit last year, the second largest deficit ever recorded. Its report also showed that since 1987, Britain's share of worldwide tourism has slumped from six per cent to 4.3 per cent last year. 'We have recognised that Britain's share of world tourism is falling and has fallen in the last few years quite rapidly,' Mr Sell said. 'The reason for that is that primarily, we have drawn our tourists from the markets which are growing less rapidly, that is to say from North America and to some extent from European markets.' However, interest from the Asian tourism markets is growing. 'The Asian market is growing at roughly three times the world average,' said Mr Sell. BTA also recognises that there is not yet much competition from other national tourist offices in the Asian markets. However, it admits that the office could spend much more in order to compete with Asian competitors such as the Australian Tourism Commission. 'We have to decide which market is the most important for us, and then what we need to spend to be effective, and design a promotional programme to achieve that,' said Mr Sell. Mr Sell, aged 51, who was in the territory during an eight-day fact-finding mission in Asia, planned to meet his overseas colleagues to discuss what could be done to attract more people from the Asia-Pacific region to Britain. Other cities on his agenda were Delhi, Taipei, Seoul, Osaka, Tokyo and Auckland. He had also lined up meetings with people in the travel industry and business leaders. 'It's really a fact-finding tour in order to understand the operation better, to get to know people better and to shape our strategy for the future,' he said. At present, Hong Kong has only one BTA representative operating at a small Central office which is not even open to the public. Mr Sell said: ''In Hong Kong, we have to widen our availability and accessibility to the public when people are looking for information on Britain.' BTA general manager for Asia Pacific, Robert Franklin, who was accompanying Mr Sell, and who is based in Singapore, said Hong Kong could become the base for research into the formidable Chinese market. 'We are fascinated by China. We don't know exactly when [we'll set up an office there] and it will not be right for us to go into a market like China without doing the necessary research,' he said. 'What we initially will do, from our base here in Hong Kong, is appoint somebody who will be our eyes and ears to find out what the potential is and how we can best exploit that potential.' More than 20,000 Chinese visited Britain last year. Mr Franklin added: 'We see China as one of our big market potential growth areas for the next century.'' BTA was ahead of its competition in Asia. Other European nations had not yet launched any major tourism promotions in the region. Back in Britain, BTA has already been lobbying the Government to give greater recognition to the importance of world tourism to the economy. Mr Sell said: 'We have told the British Government that tourism is increasingly a very important source of earnings for the British economy. It's the fourth most important source of foreign exchange. 'It employs 1.5 million people, some seven per cent of the employed labour force, about five per cent of GDP, and every time we get another GBP30,000 of tourism income to Britain that supports one more job.' The body is also pressing for the reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on tourism related services in line with its main European competitors. 'The VAT is already 17.5 per cent on everything in Britain,' Mr Sell said. 'The British Government has the option of moving to a different rate for certain products if it wants. 'The hotel industry, with BTA's support, has been lobbying very hard, saying: 'You are penalising us compared to other European destinations because they don't have such a high rate of VAT on hotel rooms'.' However, Mr Sell said the tourism industry was finding it tough to persuade the Government to make reductions. Another issue which BTA has taken up with the Government is a new airport departure tax, which it is believed could have an adverse effect on tourism. The tax, which was introduced on November 1, is GBP5 (about HK$60) for flights to European Union (EU) countries, and GBP10 to non-EU countries. Back in Hong Kong, BTA's representative office is continuing its marketing research to find out what would appeal to locals visiting Britain. 'According to our local representative office, what people like to see is the countryside because Hong Kong is so crowded. To get out into the open English countryside is a great relaxation,' Mr Sell said. 'You can go even further if you are adventurous . . . the mountains in Wales or the Lake District [in Northern England] and Scotland. Its scenery is completely different from what you have in your own backyard. 'You could go to Australia but it doesn't have the peculiar combination of features which Britain has. Britain has such a variety of rich cultural heritage.' Next year Britain is holding a Festival of Art and Culture, with an art season in London, new theatre productions in the West End, concert programmes, and live broadcasts. 'Britain has all kinds of activity holidays and very good shopping,' Mr Sell said. 'The very rapid growth of car rental from Hong Kong people coming to Britain is a new development showing that these people are now getting more detail and information about where to go, what to see and what to do.'