Yorkshire tries to rebound from hoof-and-mouth

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NEW YORK -- Coverage of Great Britian's fading hoof-and-mouth disease no longer ranks front page placement in newspapers across the U.S., but the livestock illness continues to plague some U.K. destinations.

An example is Yorkshire, in northwest England, where new outbreaks of the livestock virus have been confirmed during the past two weeks.

"Our total visitors are still down by between 50% and 60%," a spokeswoman for the Yorkshire Tourist Board said, adding that "20 small businesses already have closed up shop -- they were mostly small [family owned and operated] accommodation providers."

The spokeswoman said that Yorkshire-area businesses count on nearly $900,000 in visitor spending during the summer high season, but this year's tourism revenue is unlikely to reach that level.

The spokeswoman said that, except for farm-related sites, all of Yorkshire's attractions are open and operating.

"People can still visit our museums, our stately homes, our market towns and villages, and our churches and abbeys," she added.

The picturesque Yorkshire landscape is perhaps most famous for its connection to literature, such as Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," written in 1847 and set against the backdrop of the famous Yorkshire moors.

"Most people, especially the British, come here to hike in the 700-square-mile Yorkshire Dales National Park. And all of the footpaths and bridle paths in the park are closed," she said.

Hoof-and-mouth disease, which can make cloven-hoofed animals sick and diminish their economic value, prompted a massive government containment effort when the outbreak was uncovered in late February.

Part of the effort temporarily left portions of rural Britain off limits to people, who can spread the virus on their clothes, shoes and car tires.

The late-winter restrictions spooked potential visitors, many from the U.S., who have opted to book summer vacations elsewhere. During the height of the outbreak, tourism revenue losses for the U.K. overall reached $200 million per week.

"It's not only Americans who are not coming... it's the British, too. About 80% of Yorkshire's total visitors come from within the U.K., namely London and southeast England," the spokeswoman said.

She added that while the Yorkshire Tourist Board has stepped up advertising and public relations campaigns, it remains to be seen whether the region will receive anywhere near the high season's traditional 3.5 million visits.

"We don't count visitors, just visits, and, of course, some British people come to Yorkshire three and four times each summer," the spokeswoman said.

The local tourism businesses, she added, will be "totally devastated" if the downturn continues through summer.

Yorkshire is not alone; the English Tourism Council reported that as many as 250,000 tourism jobs still are at risk in the U.K., and the industry stands to lose $7 billion this year.

There has been some good news in recent days. The British Tourist Authority received an additional $20 million from the British government for global promotions and the Scottish Parliament has earmarked $350,000 in additional funding to the Scottish Tourist Board.

(The Wales Tourist Board is petitioning the Welsh Assembly for an additional $1 million for its 2002 budget, although one senior official at the board said that $1 million in extra funding is "strictly a wish list item.")

Promotional allocations, however, won't help local businesses meet their immediate expenses.

For its part, the British government in mid-April created the National Tourism Recovery Strategy, which allocated about $34 million to small businesses affected by the downturn. Initiatives included low-interest loans and debt restructuring assistance. Some sources say that won't be enough.

In Yorkshire, hotels, inns, B&Bs, ground suppliers and others are finding the situation to be a real challenge.

"Challenge, actually, is putting it very, very mildly," the tourism board spokeswoman said.

For more information, visit Yorkshire on the Web.

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