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When Canadian tourists were paying more to visit Britain

A hotel room for $196? In 1979? The CBC's Dan Bjarnason explored why London was no longer the place for a cheap vacation.

Sales tax, hotel rates in London had all escalated but beer was still cheap

Canadians visiting London in may be in for a surprise when it come to the price of food, drink, shows and hotels. 3:03

Britain wasn't an inexpensive place for a holiday any more.

Some 500,000 Canadians were expected to visit in 1979, but as the CBC's Dan Bjarnason reported for The National on June 23 that year, it was going to take more money for them to do it. 

For one thing, Britain's new government had recently introduced a higher sales tax of 15 per cent, compared with the previous eight per cent.

"That's going to hurt the pocketbook of the average tourist," said host George McLean.

What things cost

Not everything in Britain cost an outrageous sum. A pint at a British pub would set tourists back by $1.18 -- the equivalent of $4 in 2020. (The National/CBC Archives)
 

In a shop on London's Regent Street, a "high-quality" sweater would cost $78, or $269 in 2020.

Shopping for such goods made up about one-third of Canadians' $200 million in spending in  Britain the previous year, noted Bjarnason. 

Samples of other prices tourists could expect were $5 for a "modest lunch in a modest cafe" ($17 in 2020) or $37 for dinner for two ($127).

Paying to see a live performance was enough to make thrifty travellers swallow hard, too.

"The long-running Jesus Christ Superstar, for example, can cost up to $17 for one ticket," said Bjarnason. (That's $58 in 2020.)

Later in the summer, if tourists from home wanted to see their own National Ballet of Canada on tour, the fee would range from $8 to $27 — or $27, in today's dollars, on the low end and $93 on the high end.

'Think twice'

Canadian tourist D.R. Manley said the high prices in England were enough to make visitors "think twice" if money was a concern. (The National/CBC Archives)

"It'll make you think twice about coming to England if you have to worry about spending money," said D.R. Manley, a Canadian tourist already in London.

But it was the cost of a hotel that was "truly discouraging," said Bjarnason, given that vacationers spent a third of their budget on accommodation.

A basic hotel, away from the city centre, cost $62 a night (or $214 in 2020).

But a "large downtown" hotel was "astronomical" at $196 for a night in a double room. (In 2020, that's $676.)

Facing France's fate?

Jean-Pierre Piquet said Britain risked a boycott by tourists, as France had gone through due to high prices earlier in the '70s. (The National/CBC Archives)

Jean-Pierre Piquet of the Hilton hotel chain feared that Britain was at risk of experiencing what his home country of France had gone through, when rates were too high and the effect was a two-year "boycott" by tourists. 

"They just recovered now by adjusting the room rate, menu meals, drinks and so forth."

Standing in front of a landmark lion statue in London, Bjarnason had a warning.

"The clear danger for Britain in all this is that she's simply becoming too expensive, and is in danger of pricing herself out of the international tourist market," he said.

"This is a market that provides this economically troubled nation with hundreds of millions worth of dollars of foreign exchange."

The CBC's Dan Bjarnason reports from London's Trafalgar Square. (The National/CBC Archives)
 

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