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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK
Tourism 'devastated' by crisis
Lake District
People are staying away from the countryside
Official government figures show British tourism is being devastated by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith told cabinet colleagues on Thursday that income from tourism in parts of Cumbria and Devon is down by as much as 80%, and by 10% overall nationally.

The best thing the government can do is to get people back into the countryside spending their money

DETR spokeswoman
And the British Tourist Authority has told BBC News Online that returning overseas visits to pre-outbreak levels could take years.

The news comes as Agriculture Minister Nick Brown insists the government's slaughter and containment policy is "beginning to bear down on the disease".

Badly affected

Assisted by dramatic images of burning pyres, most coverage of the foot-and-mouth crisis has until now focused on Britain's embattled farmers.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent how badly the outbreak is affecting the tourism industry - which contributes 4% to the UK's gross domestic product, compared with the 1% contributed by agriculture.

On Wednesday, Tourism Minister Janet Anderson indicated to BBC News Online that cabinet ministers would be spending their holidays in the UK in solidarity with the tourism industry while the disease continued.

While the government suggests that the crisis may be coming under control, those on the ground say continued closures and movement restrictions are having a "devastating impact" on income.

Chris Smith
Mr Smith has called on local authorities to re-open footpaths

One hotel in Cumbria has seen its bookings fall by 97%.

Now Mr Smith has called on local authorities to "look rather more intensively" at re-opening footpaths to show that Britain is open for business.

The south-west, one of the worst hit areas, is reporting income losses of 51m for March, and its tourist board has called for additional financial support to help badly affected businesses.

The government's rural taskforce, led by Environment Minister Michael Meacher, has already announced rate relief for small businesses hit by the crisis.

But the South West Tourist Board says this is not enough, and has called for flexible loans and tax relief.

The government says the taskforce is focusing on encouraging visitors to return to rural areas as far as restrictions allow.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) said: "The best thing the government can do is to get people back into the countryside spending their money."

Increasing pressure

In an attempt to achieve this, ministers are increasing pressure on local authorities reluctant to lift movement restrictions.

The prime minister's official spokesman said it was legitimate to ask why restrictions were still in place in areas that have had no outbreaks.

The Culture Secretary told BBC News: "There are still some local authorities that could be looking rather more intensively at [reopening] footpaths which don't pose any threat to livestock."

He added: "I would very much hope that those who are still resistant on that point would take a careful look."

British Tourist Authority
The British Tourist Authority fears long-lasting damage

The Youth Hostels Association (YHA) has called for the countryside to be re-opened more rapidly.

YHA chief executive Roger Clarke said: "Government should require local authorities immediately to re-open public rights of way in all non-infected areas, with suitable safeguards to protect livestock.

"Unless and until this happens people will not come back to the countryside".

Nearly 100 of the YHA's 230-hostel network remain closed to the public.

Mr Clarke said: "The closure of rights of way, open fell land, woodland, many coastal areas, and National Trust properties continues to have a devastating impact on our work."

Revenue down

Simon Bradley, head of operations at the South West Tourist Board, said revenue was down 30%, and up to 80% in "isolated areas", where businesses were closed or not receiving visitors at all.

"Tourism depends on people being able to move freely", he said, insisting that "most parts of the south-west are open for business".

But even if, as the government hopes, the disease is beginning to clear and restrictions lifted, the tourism industry will be "severely held back" by the inevitable after-shock of the outbreak, according to Mr Bradley.

He said: "Some of these businesses are going to be severely handicapped as to how they will operate in future".

Allan King of the Cumbria Tourist Board said the industry would need support "for some time to come".

It could be a while before tourism within the UK returns to pre-outbreak levels.

And it could be even longer before visitors from overseas come back.

Tourists not waiting

Foot-and-mouth will cost the UK between 1.5bn and 2.5bn in lost revenue from overseas visitors, according to the British Tourist Authority.

A spokeswoman warned that the country could not expect tourists to be "waiting all over the world" to return to Britain as soon as the eradication of the disease was announced.

She said: "It will certainly take a year, and could take years."

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30 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Ministers appeal for tourists' return
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