LONDON (Reuters) - Britain must move on from the era of "Cool Britannia" and embrace its rich history as part of a drive to boost tourism and become one of the world's top five destinations, Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday.
Speaking at an art gallery in London's Hyde Park, he accused successive Labor governments of neglecting historic monuments and the countryside as they sought to sell a hip, young image of Britain to the rest of the world.
The Conservative leader said Britain's heritage was one of the main draws for tourists and it must be promoted aggressively as the country seeks to attract more visitors, particularly from China and India.
Expanding the tourist trade, which employs 2.6 million people and generates 115 billion pounds ($180.2 billion) a year, will be a critical part of rebuilding the economy and bringing in money during a time of tight finances, Cameron added.
"The last government underplayed our tourism industry," Cameron said in a speech to tourism chiefs. "They raided the National Lottery (fund for good causes), taking money from heritage because it didn't really go with their image of Cool Britannia.
"They even referred to Britain -- with the oldest and proudest history in the world -- as a young country. Heritage is a key reason why people come to Britain. We should play it up."
Britain, which is currently the sixth most popular tourist destination, must make it easier for people to get visas, improve its airports and railways and exploit the 2012 Olympics in London to attract more tourists, he added.
The "Cool Britannia" label surfaced in 1996 after a breathless cover story in Newsweek magazine called London the "coolest city on the planet." It praised Britain's art scene, music, fashion and the power of London's financial district.
The phrase was based on "Rule, Britannia!," the title of an 18th century patriotic poem and song. It attached itself to Tony Blair in 1997 when he became the youngest prime minister in nearly 200 years, promising a "new dawn" for Britain.
The tag gradually faded after the initial excitement of the election. Fashions changed and Blair's sky-high ratings slipped.
Despite his jibe at "Cool Britannia," Cameron said he was not attacking fashionable attractions and stressed people enjoy both "Glyndebourne and Glastonbury," a reference to a classy opera festival and an influential open-air rock and pop event.
Editing by Jon Boyle