London - Mocking the accents of visitors from India and shouting at Japanese tourists is the kind of service you might expect only from the terminally tactless Basil Fawlty.
But now tourism chiefs think Britain’s real-life hoteliers need to be taught how to avoid making such gaffes with foreign guests.
VisitBritain, the taxpayer-funded body that promotes the UK overseas, has devised a list of dos and don’ts for the tourist industry.
Some – such as the warning not to poke fun at Indian accents – border on the blindingly obvious.
Others are downright bizarre, with tour operators instructed to avoid putting people from Hong Kong in historic houses or four-poster beds because they are superstitious and may fear “a ghostly encounter”.
VisitBritain included the advice in research it produces for the tourist industry.
Yet in spite of their efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding, the quango’s own use of generalisations, such as “demanding” Germans and “sarcastic” Aussies, could be interpreted as offensive.
Evoking the famous 1975 episode of BBC comedy Fawlty Towers, in which a goose-stepping Basil repeatedly refers to World War II in front of German visitors, several of the tips relate to acceptable topics of conversation.
The guide says Chinese visitors will not tolerate discussions about money, while Belgians dislike any attempt to talk about their country’s politics or language divisions. VisitBritain warns that Australian visitors have a tendency to be sarcastic and their jokes about “poms” are meant to be endearing.
The advice includes tips about body language, with anyone interacting with French tourists urged to avoid excessive eye contact. It also states that Indian visitors are “in the habit of shaking their heads” and instructs hosts to be “intuitive” when determining whether the gesture “signifies assent or objection”.
Attitudes towards service vary significantly, the guide warns. Indian tourists are described as “amiable”, but with “a tendency to change their minds”. Holidaymakers from Austria and Germany are labelled “straightforward and demanding” to the point of sometimes seeming “rude and aggressive”.
But the most demanding visitors, according to the tourism agency’s guidance, are the Japanese, who expect their every need to be catered for – and anticipated without them saying anything.
The Japanese also prefer “nicer alternatives” to the word “no”, the guide says.
Attitudes to accommodation are also presented as varying widely.
Russians are said to be “a tall nation” and tour operators are advised to provide rooms with high ceilings and doorways, while Chinese visitors are said to dislike small rooms far away from the reception area. The advice also warns that Canadians will be offended if they are described as “American”.
A spokesman for VisitBritain said its profiles of overseas markets were designed to ensure Britain’s hotels, tour operators, visitor attractions and entertainment establishments offered the best service. – Mail on Sunday