UK on site: Into the eye of hoof-and-mouth


Travel Weekly editor in chief Nadine Godwin continues her tour through the U.K. as part of a delegation of travel industry leaders. After visiting England's Lake District, the group will meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. Her third report follows:

WINDERMERE, England -- When Jeff Hamblin, chief executive of the British Tourist Authority, welcomed 24 travel professionals on a whirlwind VIP tour of the U.K. April 17, he said there was nothing on the trip through Scotland and England that could not be included as part of any tourist's or business group's visit.

The BTA guests, he said, would go nowhere that others could not access and enjoy -- despite some limitations that stem from the outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in the U.K.

Hamblin's point had special resonance here, in Cumbria, which was the featured destination on Day 3 of the VIP circuit, and where tourism has plummeted by 80%.

It is this county, which encompasses the Lake District, where 40% of all the U.K.'s hoof-and-mouth cases have occurred.

Nevertheless, BTA's guests on April 19 visited a private manor home and walked its gardens, rode into several small towns, cruised across Lake Windermere, visited the World of Beatrix Potter attraction and visited Wordsworth's home for a poetry reading.

The only evidence of the disease were the disinfectant pads that the bus crossed on entering the grounds of Levens Hall and the pads that visitors walked across on entering the yard for access to the property's world-renowned 17th century topiary gardens.

The disinfectant liquid was visible as some people walked across the pads but left no traces on shoes.

Editor in chief Nadine Godwin.

The disinfectant pads found at driveways were installed by the county council and are maintained with additional disinfectant daily, according to Peter Nattrass, director of the Mountain Goat tour firm. Pads found on the grounds of a property are installed and maintained by the attraction itself, he said.

In addition, Nattrass said, his company sprays the wheels and sides of its buses at least once every day to keep from spreading the virus when moving about the countryside. And, he said, those buses can travel on any public road.

Although Cumbria is one of the two hardest-hit areas in the U.K. (the second is Devon), rules about what a visitor can do are the same here as throughout the country: Visitors cannot go into mountain areas, farmland, most footpaths or other places associated with animals, such as zoos, Nattrass said. More than 100 footpaths, however, have just reopened in Cumbria.

In addition, as the VIP travel group gathered with hosts for dinner April 19, they learned that the U.K.'s top scientist had declared the hoof-and-mouth disease to be "under control."

Chris Collier, chief executive of the Cumbria Tourist Board, said the county's 80% drop in tourism reflects a comparison with bookings at this time last year.

The effects vary by type of business. For example, one attraction operator from the coastal area reported increased visits and Windermere Lake Cruises reported increased activity over a two-week Easter period. However, Nattrass said his Mountain Goat ground operation was behind by 50%.

The worst impact has been among accommodations operators; some have had no income at all for seven weeks, Collier said.

To put losses into perspective, she said tourism accounts for 25% of Cumbria's gross domestic product, making it the No. 1 industry. In addition, 80% of the farmers are also involved in tourism, either by operating B&Bs, renting cottages or creating attractions on their properties.

She said Cumbria county needs "millions of pounds" to relaunch the area's tourism business, but with so many weeks without income, she said, local businesses are in no position to pay for it.

She said her organization has prepared a comprehensive marketing plan and has asked the government for $17 million to fund it. That is equivalent to one week's losses in March and less than one week's losses to the county in April, Collier said.

Cumbria is seeking more than the $14 million in additional funds the BTA is seeking, but Collier added, Cumbria is a "special case." Devon, the other "special case," is seeking its own aid, as well, she said.

The Cumbria tourism executive said she was sure the county would get some funding from the national government though she was not so certain it would get all it seeks.

Get more:
U.K. on site: Scotland is delegation's first stop
U.K. on site: Day two, delegates meet the press

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