Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Fourth Report


Meeting held with Chris Collier, Chief Executive of Cumbria Tourist Board in Windermere on Friday 13 April 2001

I met Chris during my stay in the Lake District over Easter. I also took the opportunity to see at first hand the problems for the tourist industry as a result of foot and mouth disease.

The biggest problem is that the attraction for visitors to the Lake District is walking. With so many footpaths remaining closed and most importantly access to The Fells denied, the main attraction for many of the regular visitors has been significantly limited.

Many of the guest houses have seen bookings for May and June onwards almost cease completely. I am told that during the early part of the year they would normally be fairly busy taking bookings for the summer. But the publicity around FMD, at that important time of the year, has severely reduced the number of bookings for this period, with many guest houses and hotels reporting weeks of vacancies where they would normally be virtually full.

The CTB estimate that tourism is down by around 80 per cent in the county. With around 90 per cent of all visitors being from the UK, it is clear that our own domestic message has been as much of a problem as our message to the overseas market.

Some of the more important points from our discussions can be highlighted as follows:

  • The majority of the worst affected areas of FMD are to the north of the county. But the south lakes are equally affected by the impact on tourism. Despite the media images, I saw no signs of burning cattle. The only sign of FMD was the closure notices on many footpaths. The opening of some footpaths for Easter was greatly welcomed. Visitor attractions and the villages were busy, but, I am told, less so than normal.

  • There are around 17 YHAs in the county, which have been forced to close. This could result in the permanent loss of these facilities, as they cannot afford the financial losses even in the short-term.

  • Small businesses are the hardest hit with some reporting no income for over 6 weeks. These require the most help from compensation, but are unlikely to benefit significantly from the National Rescue Package. The rate relief on properties applies only to those with a rateable value of up to £12,000. But the majority of properties, even the smallest, are likely to be above that because of the high cost of the area. The small amount of relief is unlikely to sustain those businesses with little or no income and with little prospect of bookings in the summer.

  • The Loan Guarantee Scheme is offering loans at interest rates which are higher than those available at high street banks. Businesses that invest over the winter in anticipation of recouping it in a good summer will find it particularly difficult to get loans this year. Although there will be a delay in payment of capital, interest will still need to be repaid.

The CTB are proposing the following assistance to help the tourist industry:

  • Opening The Fells. Expert advice offered to CTB indicates that the risk of spreading FMD by bringing the sheep off the Fells and re-opening them to walkers is small in comparison to the huge effect upon the wider economic community. Local MPs and the business community are pursuing this case. Keeping visitors off the Fells is a safety device that is proving to have a devastating effect upon the tourist industry, yet is not proving to be a reliable way of reducing the spread of FMD.

  • More footpaths need to be opened and greater publicity when this happens.

  • Assistance for the tourist industry based upon the examples of compensation after oil spillage disasters (further detail on this provided by CTB).

  • Recognition of the other problems that the area has had to face recently—high costs of rail travel (costing between £160 and £250 return London to Lake District) and fuel costs.

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