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.
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
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.
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.