MORE than £630,000 was spent locally by bus passengers on the New Forest Tour this year as customer numbers jumped by 15% in the sunny weather, the national park authority has revealed.
The popular open top service, which runs several routes throughout the summer, was back up to just over 39,000 journeys having slumped to about 34,000 in 2017.
The buses are operated by Morebus in partnership with the NPA whose vice-chair, Ed Heron, described the latest figures as “great news”.
He said: “The New Forest Tour and travel concierges, giving out information at Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst, have all played an important role in reducing the impacts of congestion and carbon emissions on the national park’s landscapes.
“By encouraging visitors and residents to travel without a car, we can help protect its fragile beauty for future generations.”
The NPA said the bus had saved more than 261,000 private car miles and tour users contributed an estimated £636,000 to the local economy.
Andrew Wickham, managing director of Morebus, said: “We were blessed with a long summer of good weather which undoubtedly has been part of the success story in the New Forest.
“The easy access to New Forest attractions and villages, plus close links to Southampton via Hythe ferry, have all helped attract large passenger numbers.”
Passengers benefit from audio commentary about the area as well as discounts at popular tourist destinations such as the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Ringwood Brewery and the New Forest Wildlife Park near Ashurst.
A new stop on the tour was the Spot in the Woods café and B&B in Woodlands, near Netley Marsh, owned by Nina Basset with her husband and world-renowned wine expert Gerard.
Nina said: “Whilst we do have parking, we very much welcome the car-free visitors that the tour brings to our kitchen café and boutique B&B.
“It’s great to hear the customers talking about a stress-free day whilst relaxing before they begin their next adventure on the New Forest Tour.”
The NPA sees the New Forest Tour, which is sponsored by local businesses, as a vital link in its strategy to reduce car use in the national park.
The tour stops at local bicycle hire centres, with each tour able to carry up to four bikes, giving access to the area’s lanes and 100 miles of waymarked tracks.
Advice on getting about is also provided by New Forest travel concierges who, the NPA said, greeted over 9,000 visitors and residents at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst train station this year.