BIRMINGHAM, England -- While U.K. government officials reported
that Britain's hoof-and-mouth crisis had reached epidemic
proportions and could drag on for months, tourism officials and
local suppliers at the British Travel Trade Fair here March 21 to
22 were attempting to cope with the downturn in business.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board reported a 7% drop
year-to-date in the tourism sector.
In England, the falloff in tourism is costing the industry up to
$250 million a week, said Mary Lynch, chief executive of the
English Tourism Council. She predicted the number could double if
the falloff continues into summer.
Regional operators are experiencing the effects of the outbreak
and its subsequent travel restrictions to varying degrees.
"We're not taking any walking tours at the moment -- we can't.
Easter is going to be the biggest decider [of how well or poorly
this year will turn out]. That is generally when the season kicks
off," said Linda Reohorn, tourism officer for Wales Countryside
Holidays in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
While some operators reported cancellations, others said the
biggest concern was the lack of advance bookings.
Ann Knowles, owner of Cotswolds Walking Holidays, based in
Cheltenham, England, said, "The Cotswolds is not infected, but we
are surrounded on all sides by it.
"March and April are our busiest booking season, [but] since the
outbreak we've had no new bookings.
"We are allowing people to cancel with a full refund if [it's]
six weeks before departure," Knowles said, adding that "we've had
great sympathy from Americans, [but] you can't live on sympathy
Tony Home, director of Dorset, England-based Gentle Journeys,
which specializes in garden tours, said his firm has had some
cancellations but "because we deal with a more intellectual
clientele, they are able to get beyond the frightening headlines in
American BritAgent specialists and trade reporters attending the
Birmingham event were hosted on post-show itineraries to various
parts of England. Among the sites visited were Windsor Castle,
Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and Rochester Cathedral.
The trip was affected once by hoof-and-mouth travel
restrictions, when a planned visit to Sissinghurst Castle and
Gardens, in southeast England, was canceled.
In New York, Tim Lovell, British Tourist Authority vice
president, USA, said he was "confident that the authorities are
doing all they can to get [the outbreak] under control."
Meanwhile, he noted, "there is plenty to see and do that doesn't
involve affected areas. Lively towns and cities like those featured
in the BTA's U.K. City Culture program are full of attractions.
"Also, British villages with their ancient history and
outstanding architecture continue to receive visitors."