Tourist trade loses millions as visitors stay away

Countryside
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The Independent Online

As outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease continue to sweep the country, the British tourism industry is losing millions of pounds each day, forcing many small businesses to the brink of collapse.

As outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease continue to sweep the country, the British tourism industry is losing millions of pounds each day, forcing many small businesses to the brink of collapse.

Tourism in the countryside is running at 75 per cent below normal, according to the English Tourist Council. This means about £100m a week is being lost, a sum expected to rise. Farmers, in the meantime, have lost less than £30m.

Travel agents and tourism call centres are experiencing a deafening silence from prospective visitors abroad.

Philippa Swaine of the British Tourist Authority said: "We are very concerned about what the outbreak is doing to Britain's reputation overseas. The worrying thing is that we are having cancellations from France and the US, which are our biggest markets.

"This is also the time of year that people are planning holidays for the summer. They are thinking they will give Britain a miss this year."

But while the Government is organising financial aid for farmers, not a penny is on offer to those who depend on tourism. Many will lose their livelihood and some say they have no chance of establishing themselves back in business.

With the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) urging that no unnecessary trips should be made to the countryside, another source of lost revenue is the lack of day-trippers, who account for about £9bn every year.

Yesterday, the board of Cheltenham racecourse met to salvage something of the Festival by rescheduling it for next month. Abandoning the Cheltenham Festival means that Gloucestershire could lose up to £10m. Even a postponement is costing millions. And the losses that the racecourse is suffering are being echoed up and down the country.

Cheltenham was expecting 175,000 visitors for the three-day festival, which should have started tomorrow. The lack of them means a whole tranche of businesses, from hotels and restaurants to taxi firms and some farms, will suffer. Chris Dee, a tourism officer with Gloucestershire said: "It will cost the county £10m. Some farmers will lose as well as a lot of the accommodation is in farmhouses. Many of them have turned to tourism as a means of getting through difficult times."

Up and down the country local authorities are being forced to close areas where infection could be spread to wildlife - Dartmoor, Exmoor, Hampton Court Park, Richmond Park, the New Forest, parts of Windsor Great Park, Longleat Safari Park, Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, and Chester and Edinburgh zoos are all closed. Visitors to London zoo have to walk on disinfectant matting.

Facing this, and a daily rise in the number of outbreaks, travel companies are finding it increasingly difficult to sell the line that many areas are still safe. One travel agent, based in Bristol, said: "We can say that Cornwall has not had any cases of the disease, but how can we guarantee it will not have in the future? We have to look at legal ramifications."

There has been friction over cancelled bookings. Toad Hall Cottages, which has properties in Exmoor and Dartmoor, said: "Some owners are insisting that customers booked the cottage, not the location, and claim the bookings stand. We are trying to mediate between the two sides, but in some cases it might depend on the insurance policies."

Snowdonia is expecting the best mountaineering conditions for more than 15 years. But, because of foot-and-mouth, it is also expecting a dire tourist season. The National Mountain Centre, normally buzzing, is deserted instead.

Iain Peter, the centre's chief executive, has laid off 40 of his staff and the remaining 60 are working a three-day week. He is not sure how long the centre will be able to continue even with that.

"Everybody, from pubs to patrol stations to the post office is suffering," he said. "We know we are not getting any compensation from the Government... [and] the Government has put in some pretty stringent powers without thinking of the consequences."

The Cumbrian tourist board estimates it is losing up to £8m a week, and the Scottish Tourist Board has scrapped a £2m marketing campaign. A spokesman said: "The theme was to 'come to Scotland for a stress-free holiday where you can simply roam around the country'. But because of the restrictions that will not be true. We can't lie to people."

In Wales the crisis is estimated to be costing £5m a day in lost tourist revenue and is already being recognised as the "biggest crisis ever to hit the industry". Some operators are reporting losses of up to 75 per cent because the public are following advice to keep out of the countryside.

The board is so worried that, at its monthly meeting in Cardiff last week, it decided to allocate an extra £100,000 for a new promotional campaign.

The campaign will be launched in the next few days to ensure accurate information about the foot-and-mouth outbreak and restrictions on movement is passed on to the public to limit losses to hoteliers and other operators.

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