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The need for airports to ensure overseas visitors get a good first impression of Britain was stressed today by former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major.
Opening a new £73 million extension to Gatwick airport, Sir John said airports were the ``front door of the UK''.
Touring the West Sussex airport's North Terminal, where the extension work has been carried out, he went on: ``For visitors to Britain, their first impressions of our country are shaped by what they see and experience when they land.
``That is why the significant investment to improve arrivals infrastructure is so important.''
Sir John continued: ``In recent months, Gatwick has established the first direct air link between Britain and Vietnam.
``New routes have been opened to Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea and China. More new routes will follow. All of this is good news - not just for Gatwick but for all of us in the UK.
``Gatwick will continue to compete with our EU (European Union) neighbours and the rising challenge from the new markets of Greater Asia.
``In improving its efficiency, Gatwick is contributing to economic growth and well-being across the UK. And that is vital to our national interest.''
The extension is part of Gatwick's plan for the terminal to accommodate 20 million passengers a year by 2020.
There are 18 new check-in desks taking the total to 144, of which 70 are self-service. There are also four new luggage reclaim belts, three for international flights and one for domestic.