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Open at last – but Forest tourism and hospitality firms need your support

Robin Hutson of Lime Wood Hotel
Robin Hutson of Lime Wood Hotel

“A HUGE relief” – that is the verdict of tourism and hospitality bosses in the New Forest after the government confirmed the sectors can throw open their doors again on 4th July.

Some firms went as far as to say they had been saved by the Prime Minister’s announcement on Tuesday and they are now urging locals to support them, as well as assuring they will take the next fortnight to make all the necessary precautions.

Following the news, firms large and small have confirmed they will get back to business as soon as they can, including the Pig Hotel Group, The Mill at Gordleton and a bird sanctuary, as well as hairdressers and restaurants across the district.

Robin Hutson, chairman and chief executive of the five-star Lime Wood Hotel in Lyndhurst summed up the feelings of many: “We really can’t wait to welcome you all back and, while observing stringent safety measures, aim to create the same warm welcome that we have always hoped to deliver.”

Welcoming the announcement, Anthony Climpson, chief executive of not-for-profit Go New Forest (GNF), which markets the area, called on residents to get behind local firms since many still face the risk of going bust if they do not get support.

“Apart from continued fine weather, what we hope for now is local residents will get behind us and give all our visitors a warm welcome from 4th July onwards so we can try in some small way to make up for the huge losses we’ve suffered since lockdown,” he said.

But some businesses still might not survive, he warned. “It’s far too early to say whether the reopening will give us a fighting chance to save our tourism industry before the winter slowdown.

“But by persuading our visitors to book direct to get the best price and enjoy a new range of connected experiences via the Go New Forest Card, we are certainly going to give it our best shot.”

GNF had been working with its 200-member businesses on a recovery plan with a “greater emphasis” on health, security, hygiene, wellbeing, personal service, and environmental and social responsibility, he stressed.

It intends to extend the tourism season “deep into autumn” to make the most of the NPA’s Walking Festival in October and GNF’s food and drink festival fortnight in early November.

Go New Forest's Anthony Climpson
Go New Forest's Anthony Climpson

“We’re convinced our consumers will value the things we’ve learned since lockdown and the changes we’ll be making,” Mr Climpson went on.

“It will be interesting to see if the salutary experience of Covid-19 means they in turn will find an added attraction in the unique qualities of a New Forest visit and adopt a more caring and responsible appreciation of all that it offers when they visit.”

GNF revealed many of its members are offering value-added packages, with a guarantee that the prices paid will be the lowest possible, if booked direct.

The Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst – which has taken advantage of the lockdown to redecorate – is offering special packages including five nights for the price of three and special, tailor-made offers, with activities such as cycling and archery.

All guests also receive a free Go New Forest Card, worth £10, which enables the holder to discounts from hundreds of businesses throughout the area.

Also pleased by the lifting of restrictions was Matthew Lawson, chairman of the New Forest Business Partnership (NFBP). Acknowledging the visitor economy had been “particularly hard hit” he said NFBP would be “working hard” to ensure all businesses could reopen safely.

Mr Lawson, who owns the Thatched Cottage Hotel in Brockenhurst and Escape Yachting in Lymington, added: “Local businesses are the backbone of our New Forest economy. To ensure a strong and sustainable local economy, we need people to buy locally.

“For every £10 spent with a local independent business, up to an additional £50 goes back into the local economy.

“This is simply because the New Forest business owners, who you are spending your money with, then put that money back into our local community by going into local pubs, restaurants and shops, thus circulating the money and allowing our community to thrive.”

Also buoyed by the news were Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive and executive chairman, Ross McNally, and New Forest District Council leader Cllr Barry Rickman.

Lynda Bridges from Liberty's Owl, Raptor & Reptile Centre
Lynda Bridges from Liberty's Owl, Raptor & Reptile Centre

The former said: “We are still a long way from business as usual”, adding: “broader efforts” were needed to help firms, such as a “mass test-and-trace system and more fiscal measures”.

Cllr Rickman also stressed it “remains important” people exercise caution, and follow advice so the rate of the spread of the virus remained low in the Forest.

Less circumspect was James Norton, who runs Toad Hall. It rents out cottages in the Forest and in an interview on ITV’s This Morning he said he “breathed a huge sigh of relief” and traffic on the website had gone “through the roof”. “We’ve been waiting for this news for three months,” he declared.

Also “thrilled” was Lynda Bridges, co-owner of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor & Reptile Centre in Ringwood. It runs entirely on donations and she said the past three months had been “exceptionally difficult” since its income had “all but dried up” while its outgoings were maintained.

“Hopefully now we are through the worst of this and can look forward to welcoming visitors back to the centre to make the most of the summer months ahead,” she said.

David Butcher, managing director of the company that owns The Mill at Gordleton, Lymington, Upham Inns, said it “could not wait” to welcome back customers.

He said measures being brought in to help included “the very latest technology that allows for seamless and contactless food and drink ordering, as well as even more stringent hygiene measures including additional cleaning rotas, to reviewing capacity and spacing levels.”

Disposable menus, Perspex screens and a reduced amount of diners will be the new normal for Rivaaz in Lymington when it reopens.

Owner Shah Malek revealed how he had taken “stringent” measures to ensure the safety of customers and staff.

He said: “We will have less covers and less staff to ensure safe distancing. Diners must book a table online.

“We have completely refurbished the restaurant so there is a new floor and new wall decorations. We are extremely hygiene conscious normally but will be even more so now.

“There will be hand sanitisers scattered throughout the restaurant, and the toilets will be cleaned thoroughly several times during the evening.

“We will be taking bookings from the 1st of July and opening on the 6th as we wanted to make sure all the steps we needed to take have been put in place.”

Tracey Nash, commercial manager of Hampshire Fare, the county food group, said: “There is no doubt that if the two-metre social distancing requirement had stayed in place, most could not have opened. The new one-metre-plus distancing will allow many to protect jobs and their businesses.”

She said Hampshire Fare was rolling out a second phase of its Stay Loyal Stay Local campaign to champion hospitality businesses, adding: “We urge people to support their local independent businesses at this time, while still remaining vigilant about their own and others’ safety, of course.”

Meanwhile, hairdresser Angela El-Cargly, who owns Hairsway in Sway and Hair on the Cliff in Highcliffe, joked she was thinking of renaming her business ‘The Corrective Hair Salon’ after customers rushing to book admitted suffering disastrous at-home efforts to keep their locks looking good.

“I’ve had a lot of ‘Oh Angela you’re going to have to sort my hair out’ then they’ve gone on to tell me they’ve had their husband give them a bit of a trim, or tried to cover up the grey with a home colour,” she told the A&T. “I think there is going to be a lot of corrective hairdressing going on.”

Angela, who opened both salons only eight weeks before the lockdown, continued: “We are booked solid for the first month at both salons. We will be wearing face masks and

face screens. All customers will wear masks, too, and if they want we will give them gloves to wear.”

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