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TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST BRITISH SEASIDE RESORTS

The traditional British seaside resort - buckets and spades, candy floss and brisk winds - is becoming an endangered species, under threat from cut-price vacations in warmer climates.

Given a choice between southwest England in summer - average maximum temperature 66 degrees Fahrenheit and monthly rainfall of 2.9 inches - and, say the Spanish island of Majorca - 84 degrees and 0.55 inch of rain - many Britons opt for the sun.A deckchair attendant on the promenade at Torquay, a resort known as the "Queen of the English Riviera," had more chairs folded beside him than rented out to tourists on one hot day at the end of the vacation season.

As the season drew to a close, locals dependent on tourism reflected on the summer's business and saw lean times ahead.

"Torquay is stagnating. There is nothing to keep people here, nothing to do in the rain," lamented Dennis and Jill Clark, looking around their deserted seafront kiosk advertising pleasure cruises and fishing trips.

The couple have worked in Torquay, in southwest England, for nine years and say tourists are just not coming any more.

"We do less business in three days now than we did in a single day five years ago," Dennis said.

This year the chairwoman of the English Tourist Board, Adele Biss, said Britain was in danger of losing out in the lucrative world tourist market.

She said Britain's tourism account had gone into the red by $4.8 billion a year, with Britons spending more abroad than foreigners spend in Britain. A decade ago these sums were roughly the same.

"The 1970s babies, whose first holidays were on the original package trips to the Costas, are now taking their own children on holiday. Most of them don't know what a holiday in England is like and we have to tempt them back into discovering what we have to offer," Biss said.

Britons are taking more frequent holidays but are opting for shorter breaks in domestic resorts.

They spend less on holidays on home ground than they do abroad. But they demand better facilities than their parents did, expecting color televisions and en-suite bathrooms in every room.

While some resorts are preserved like Victorian relics and are in terminal decline, their shabby fish-and-chip shops nestling beside old-fashioned amusement arcades and stalls selling cheap plastic gifts, others are fighting back.

Center Parcs, a chain with high-tech indoor all-weather facilities - is almost fully booked for the coming year.

Hotels have had to find ways to supplement dwindling incomes. At the top of the market, many are trying to tap the small but profitable business and luxury sectors.

On the clifftop at one end of Torquay, the only five-star hotel in the region had an upbeat story to tell.

This year's season was "hugely better than expected," with about 80 percent of the rooms occupied, said Adrian Gray, deputy general manager of Torquay's Imperial Hotel.

A single room in the hotel built in 1866, whose terrace has breathtaking views of the bay and features in an Agatha Christie novel, costs $116 a night.

Some hotels offer low-season cut-price holidays for the elderly, while many small hotels and boarding houses are being used year-round by social services to accommodate the destitute.

"Families come all the way down from Scotland in the car with young children and still go from door to door looking for the best deal," one landlady in Torquay complained.