BOOKINGS are down by half for some tourism businesses in the New Forest as the coronavirus scares off visitors, according to a local industry leader.
Anthony Climpson, chief executive at tourism group Go New Forest, likened the impact of the epidemic on traders to the foot-and-mouth outbreak nearly 10 years ago.
He told the A&T: “At this point in time, the impact on bookings for local accommodation and attraction businesses ranges from between 10% to 50% down.
“We’re hopeful that as in 2001, once everyone becomes accustomed to the reality of the situation, visitors will return in significant numbers.”
There are thousands of jobs in the New Forest which depend on the tourism industry, as it enters a busy period when many bookings are taken ahead of the summer season. An estimated 13.5-million visits are made every year.
However, Mr Climpson sounded a note of optimism as he expected the industry’s response to coronavirus would be helped by lessons from foot-and-mouth in 2001 when controls were introduced, such as dogs being kept on leads and car parks closed.
He said: “Over the last few weeks we have met with our different sector groups to discuss and identify operational and destination-wide matters to help minimise the issues associated with the current chain of events.
“We are confident that our guests can continue to enjoy the high quality services provided by our members whether visiting as a local resident or travelling from further afield to stay overnight in our wonderful rural destination.”
Membership of Go New Forest, a not-for-profit community interest company, comprises more than 200 visitor-related business, ranging from small B&Bs and campsites to larger operations such as the five-star Chewton Glen and Paultons Park.
Mr Climpson went on: “We will continue to keep all our member businesses informed and up to date with such matters as the government’s £30bn support package announced during the Budget and they likewise will continue to feed back to us.
“One thing is clear at moments like this, and that is there is real strength in numbers.
“So it’s great to see all our members pulling together to deal with such challenges, particularly as we are a critical New Forest industry which provides so many jobs and supports such a significant local supply chain.”
Yesterday the government advised schools and colleges against all overseas trips for children under 18 until further notice, over the problems of staffing if youngsters or teachers fall ill.
Last weekend, before the national risk level was raised to ‘high’, New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne wrote on his website urging people to take advantage of travel “bargains”.
Older people or those with weakened immune systems should take precautions, he said, but added: “The rest of us, however, should take advantage of the opportunities to be had, carry on going shopping, going out and eating out.
“There are bargains now to be had from the holiday industry, I see no reason why they should be passed up.”
Pennington Cllr Jack Davies, a Liberal Democrat who ran against him in the 2019 general election, criticised him saying: “Your health is more important than the economy. You can’t sort out a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist.”
Today Sir Desmond instead tweeted government advice for people to stay at home for seven days if they have a new continuous cough or a high temperature.