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First Base is the equivalent of an 'Editorial'. It is the opportunity for S & A to provide comment and provoke discussion on topical issues relating to leisure and tourism. This will be provided each month and we would welcome your feedback on the matters raised.

First Base 11: There must be no ambiguity!

Date: 20/5/2004

It is rather auspicious, writing this on April Fool's Day, at a time when the UK is wracked with the foot and mouth crisis and when the Prime Minister appears more swayed by public opinion polls than by his own Cabinet in terms of when to call the Election.

From the leisure and tourism perspective what is badly needed is clear direction and leadership from Government.

The public are confused as to the reality about visiting the countryside. Is it open? What is open? Blair's clarion call for tourists and day trippers to support rural businesses has a hollow ring about it. Saturday's Guardian newspaper (www.guardian.co.uk/footandmouth) reports that rural tourism businesses are losing 100m per week (the industry is worth 12 bn a year to rural areas). This puts into perspective the scale of the contribution of agriculture.
Scare stories are clearly to blame for the decline in numbers. Ambiguous messages from Government do not help.

Tourism operators are nervous about Easter - effectively it's a non-event. Worse, there are now significant cancellations into July and August. This ground cannot be reclaimed. It is going to take these businesses at least three years to recover. Many cannot survive that period of time.

In an industry that is so heavily dependent upon the flow of cash it is outrageous that more isn't being done to focus on the precise needs of these operators.

Post foot and mouth the UK will be required to fundamentally review and restructure the rural economy. Sport, leisure and tourism will have to play an even more important role in this new scenario. The strategy for recovery and renewal must begin now. We are in danger of merely looking at the short term issues of the current crisis. We need to look over the horizon.

DR Terry Stevens

URL: www.guardian.co.uk/footandmouth

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