Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by HF Holidays

1.  HF Holidays

  As an Industrial and Provident Society, HF Holidays is a rare example of a highly successful business run as a Friendly Society on co-operative principles. It was founded in 1913, provides over 55,000 walking guest weeks each year, and is continually expanding. As such it is by far the largest provider of walking holidays in the UK.

  It is a prudently managed society, but this will not be sufficient to ensure survival if the foot and mouth problem drags on too long.

  HF Holidays operates a charitable fund (known as the Pathways Fund) which provides substantial cash support each year to environmental and conservation projects, and to the provision of free holidays for people in need. Contributions are made throughout the year by HF holidaymakers and by Members of the Society, of which there are approximately 26,000.

2.  Recommendation

  The re-opening of footpaths in the countryside, and especially in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be an urgent national priority.

  Although there appears to be a view that the countryside can be "open" with minimal access to footpaths, this would appear to be at odds with evidence of increasing numbers who see walking as their main leisure activity. Either way, the countryside is most certainly closed for the walking and outdoor holiday industry, who are totally dependent on the land for their survival. The very existence of key national organisations is threatened by the current foot and mouth outbreak.

3.  The problem

  The problems of rural tourism have been well aired in the media. The problems of the walking and outdoor holiday industry are particularly severe because they are totally dependent on access to footpaths and the countryside. The vast majority of holidays are based in the most sensitive areas, and consequently nearly all holidays are having to be cancelled, and money returned to customers.

  It needs to be borne in mind that many customers are switching to walking and outdoor holidays abroad, and that a proportion will be lost for some time to UK based operations. In addition to traditional areas such as Austria and Switzerland, countries like Spain are working very hard to develop their higher value added tourism, and provision for walking is seen as an important component in this.

  At the same time the UK appears to be happy to claim that the countryside is open when the range of activities available are not likely to be sufficient for discerning foreign visitors. Given the disadvantages conferred by the weather, the UK needs to compete vigorously in every other respect.

  There is therefore a twofold problem. Foreign walking and outdoor activities appear increasingly attractive to UK people; and the UK is entering the peak season with its rural holiday facilities operating at half-cock.

4.  Background

  Walking is three times more popular as a leisure activity than any other pursuit. This is matched by a thriving walking holiday industry, which was originally pioneered in the early part of this century the Holiday Fellowship (now HF Holidays), along with others such as the Youth Hostels Association, Countrywide Holidays and the National Trust. Indeed, many of the founding fathers of these organisations were involved in all of them.

  As a consequence of these activities, the walking and outdoor market in the UK is still dominated by non-profit seeking societies, with HF Holidays being the largest provider of walking holidays in the world. Taken together they represent a unique national asset. This asset is now threatened because many of them carry heavy fixed costs resulting from large but elderly property portfolios, which need careful management and constant maintenance. (In fact many of the properties were former private country homes which became available in the 1920s and 1930s, and HF was a major accommodation provider for the Government in the Second World War.)

5.  Local Employment

  HF is a major employer of staff in remote rural locations, in many cases being the only significant employer of any size in the locality. In addition through sub-contracting (eg to local coach companies) the organisation provides much needed local business. Indeed HF Holidays provides the anchor customer for over 20 rural coach companies throughout the UK. HF is also a lifeline for dozens of small suppliers in rural areas.

6.  Foreign Earnings

  HF was founded on the principles of international friendship. Accordingly, it attracts large numbers of foreign visitors to the UK each year, and furthermore attracts them to remote rural locations rather than congested tourist sites. Their contribution to foreign earnings (and international goodwill) is therefore particularly important.

April 2001

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