Tourism staff protest at Lake District job losses

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The Independent Online

Workers from Cumbria's hotels and tourist attractions staged an impassioned demonstration yesterday to highlight the impact the foot-and-mouth outbreak has had on tourism in the Lake District.

Workers from Cumbria's hotels and tourist attractions staged an impassioned demonstration yesterday to highlight the impact the foot-and-mouth outbreak has had on tourism in the Lake District.

About 150 people gathered in Keswick to draw attention to the estimated 350 jobs that are being lost each week in the county because of cancelled bookings and the widely held perception that travelling through the countryside can help to spread the contagion raging through farming.

The Cumbrian Tourist Board has created a "fighting fund" and is inviting donations, which it hopes will go someway towards mitigating the £30m-a-week losses that are estimated for the period over Easter. Of the £100m that the English Tourist Board estimates is draining from the revenue raised by national tourism each week, between £8m and £10m a week is being lost in the Lake District.

The Government confirmed a £10m cash injection yesterday to help to promote rural tourism overseas and counter misinformation about the extent of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The funding, which comes on top of the £35m already allocated annually to the British Tourist Authority for promoting Britain abroad, is designed to stem the flow of international cancellations and lost bookings.

The money is desperately needed, according to a spokesman for Keswick's tourist information office. He said: "To give you some idea, for the 10-mile radius around this part of the Lake District, we have taken two accommodation bookings this week compared with 43 during the same week last year."

About 150 people made the journey through snow-dusted fells to Keswick yesterday morning to demonstrate the strength of their feelings by forming a symbolic queue outside the town's Jobcentre.

Janice Smith, the owner of Leathes Head Hotel in Borrowdale, said: "The idea was to draw attention to the situation that's developing here.

"Our solidarity with the farmers is real but once the worst has happened to them and their herds have been destroyed, they can calculate the damage," she said.

"Tourism is a far larger industry in terms of the local economy and has a much more far-reaching effect. For instance, at our place we've got 11 rooms and only one is taken. Ordinarily, we'd expect three or four mid-week and we'd be full at the weekend. But there's just nothing. We've kept the chef on because he's good but he's doing maintenance and gardening for us at the moment."

Despite the impact on takings, people fear the knock-on effects will be greater. "It's the painters and decorators, the builders who normally do their work off-season. Ninety-five per cent of people around here are dependent on tourism in one way or another.

"If we do badly - and we will - then there'll be no maintenance and repairs to be done. You're looking at the whole of the local economy grinding to a halt," she said.

Michael Meacher, an Environment minister, has issued new guidelines, saying that visitors can "go anywhere" as long as they observe foot-and-mouth restrictions. However, given the restrictions still in place, would-be tourists have the problem of finding something to do once they arrive in the Lake District.

A spokesman for the National Trust, which owns 25 per cent of the land in the Lake District, confirmed that footpaths were still shut to visitors and car parks were closed.

But a tourist information officer in Keswick eagerly pointed out that there was more to the Lake District. "You can still walk on the roads - and the local hotels have got together and organised a reciprocal arrangement where you can park in one and walk to another. You can go cycling, you can still walk around the lake and there's a brand new theatre here that only opened last year. It's supposed to be rather good."

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