By Ian Dunt
Britain is falling down the league table of prime tourist destinations because the British themselves do not celebrate their country enough, the prime minister claimed this morning.
Speaking outside the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, central London, David Cameron said Labour had failed to galvanise the tourism industry because it was obsessed with looking modern.
"The last government underplayed our tourist industry," he said.
"They just didn't get our heritage. They raided the national lottery taking money from heritage because it didn't go with their image of 'cool Britannia'.
"At one point they even referred to Britain as a young country."
Mr Cameron then went on to ask why the UK is only rated 24th in the world on natural beauty, behind Japan, Finland and Ireland.
"It's a question of perception. And the truth is we've just not been working hard enough to celebrate our country and home and sell our country abroad."
Describing tourism as one of the "missing pieces in the UK's economic strategy", the prime minister said local councils would be able to invest much of the extra revenue earned by increased tourism to their area.
He also claimed that cutting down on small business regulation would help accelerate local companies trying to harness the profit from tourism.
The government will look at the visa system and the entire infrastructure of the tourist experience to the UK, including "the time it takes to clear customs at Heathrow".
India and China are expected to receive a facilitated tourist visa process in a bid to encourage visitors from the two largest growing economies.
Labour reacted angrily to the speech, with former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw issuing a brutal rebuttal to Mr Cameron's comments.
"Before making a speech on heritage, David Cameron should have read up on some recent history," he said.
"Labour's introduction of free admission to national museums and galleries has helped to attract people from around the world, while opening up access to our rich cultural heritage for everyone in Britain.
"If David Cameron wishes to further improve Britain's offering for tourists, perhaps he should come up with some constructive policy measures, rather than weak gags about losing to Germany at football."