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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK


Eclipse tour company collapses

Cloudy forecasts are worrying local tourist operators

An eclipse tour firm has collapsed amid concern that poor weather forecasts and fears of traffic chaos are keeping the crowds away from the south-west.

Special report
Special report
11 August
Celestial Events, a company set up especially for the eclipse, had been planning a huge corporate entertainment venture, flying up to 30 chartered aircraft from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.

Passengers had been meant to watch Wednesday's event from executive jets and then enjoy lavish entertainment at a separate venue, at up to £600 per head.

But the firm, which had promised "one of the biggest air operations since the Berlin airlift", pulled out amid reports that the planned influx of 750,000 eclipsewatchers was not materialising in Cornwall.

Negative publicity blamed

Total crowds of up to 1.5m are said to be descending on Cornwall for Wednesday's event, but by Monday lunchtime only 500,000 had arrived.

The BBC's Jane O'Brien reoprts: "Some businesses reckon they're already 45% down on last year"
One of the biggest events blamed the government for the lower-than-expected influx into the region.

Paul Lowe, spokesman for the 20,000-capacity Total Eclipse Festival, near Plymouth, said many people had been put off by "negative government publicity".

He urged the government to make a clear statement telling people that roads were not blocked, and encouraging them to head to the area.

[ image: Crowds are not quite what was expected]
Crowds are not quite what was expected
And one beef farmer renting out his land to campers said he was hoping just to cover his advertising costs.

Patrick Lobb, who has room for up to 2,000 people in a prime spot next to the A30 near Bodmin Moor, has a total of 30 bookings during eclipse week.

2,000 an hour arriving

However, tourist chiefs said people were continuing to arrive "steadily".

The BBC's Liz McKean: "A full-scale land invasion has not happened yet"
Cornwall Tourist Board official Teresa Timms said traffic flows showed that 2,000 people an hour were entering the county on Monday. And a last-minute rush was still expected, she said, despite the fact that weather forecasts are poor.

"The weather will probably play a very large part in this, but judging from the interest out there, there are a great deal of people still looking to come and book accommodation," added Ms Timms.

The Met Office says cloud is likely to block the view of the eclipse in the region, and its Monday forecast said there was only a 15% chance of seeing the moon cover the sun.

But Ms Timms said the phone lines at the tourist board centre had been "red hot" on Monday.

"A lot of the larger temporary campsites are now beginning to fill," she said.

"But the picture is very mixed. There are some accommodation providers who are disappointed with their bookings, others could have let their rooms ten times over."

Drivers praised

Meanwhile, motorists were praised for staggering their journeys so that the feared traffic jams had not materialised.

Police said drivers have been planning their journey so well that roads have actually been busier during the night than in the day.

And the drivers themselves were delighted by the lack of gridlock. "It doesn't get much easier than this," said one relieved motorist.

However, the poor weather was causing problems of a different kind on the roads, with seven accidents reports in the south-west region on Monday morning.

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