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


Memorandum submitted by the Youth Hostel Association (YHA)

  1.  The foot and mouth (FMD) crisis has had a very serious impact on the YHA.

    —  Of our 230 hostels, more than 100 are currently closed: some because they require access across farmland, most because the countryside remains empty of walkers. In addition, many of our educational groups and individual travellers have cancelled their bookings at those hostels that have stayed open.

    —  Overnights at our rural hostels during March were down by 56 per cent compared with the same period last year. Business in our city hostels (where we tend to see a high percentage of visitors from overseas) was down by 12 per cent in March. Even our London hostels saw a drop in trade of nearly 10 per cent.

    —  We estimate that we will have incurred a net loss of £2 million by the end of April as a result of the FMD crisis. If the crisis continues, as we now expect, throughout May and June, we estimate we will lose a further £3 million. This is net of the savings we have made by laying off all our seasonal staff.

    —  The release of our seasonal employees has left 200 rural jobs unfilled.

  2.  All our evidence suggests that visitors (domestic and from overseas) have little confidence in the countryside being "open" either now or in the near future, or that the countryside is a welcoming, safe and attractive place to visit during the crisis.

  3.  Many of our visitors want to walk in the countryside. The closure of rights of way, open fell land, woodland, many coastal areas and National Trust sites, continues to have a devastating impact on public confidence that the countryside is "open". This lack of confidence is having a devastating impact on the YHA.

  4.  We need urgent help from Government to put into practice the Prime Minister's statement that the countryside is open. Government should require local authorities immediately to re-open public rights of way in non-infected areas, with suitable safeguards to protect livestock. A scheme of incentives for immediate action, and sanctions for inaction, is needed.

  5.  Information on the re-opening of public rights of way should be communicated by the Government, its agencies, and local authorities in a high-profile, and systematic way. This should be done via the mass media (TV, radio, newspapers, etc). This is needed to ensure that visitors (both domestic and from overseas) are clear about where they can and cannot go in the countryside, and that they can plan their trips to the countryside with confidence, knowing that they can pursue the activities that they traditionally enjoy (walking, mountain biking, etc) when they get there. Without this reassurance, visitors will inevitably look to countries other than the UK for their leisure trips.

  6.  The YHA also needs urgent help from Government to restore our ability to invest in our future, through a one-off capital investment grant of £5 million, delivered through the grant-making powers of the English Tourism Council (£4 million) and the Wales Tourist Board "Section 4" grants (£1 million); alternatively through the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales. Without such assistance, many sections of society (such as school children and families on low incomes) will, in the future, miss out on educational and recreational visits to the countryside, via our Youth Hostels.

Background information on the YHA

  7.  YHA is one of the UK's leading charities, serving the recreational and outdoor educational needs of young people. Our financial turnover last year was £30,701,000. We have approximately 300,000 members, and many of these are outdoor enthusiasts (walkers, cyclists, etc) and countryside lovers.

  8.  We operate 230 Youth Hostels across England and Wales. Of these:

    —  99 (43 per cent) are in, or adjacent to, National Parks;

    —  135 (59 per cent) are on, or close to, National Trails;

    —  24 (10 per cent) are in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; and

    —  26 (11 per cent) are in historic cities (including seven in London).

  9.  We also market and administer more than 50 privately run camping barns in networks covering Exmoor, Dartmoor; the Peak District; the Forest of Bowland; North Yorkshire; the Lake District and the North Pennines.

  10.  We offer a programme of led walking holidays (eg the "Coast to Coast" and the Dales Way). We also offer a central booking service for independent walkers covering accommodation (Youth Hostels and alternatives) on the main long distance paths in England and Wales.

  11.  Our Youth Hostels recorded more than two million overnight stays last year. More than half a million overnights (575,292) were accounted for by visitors from overseas, including:

    —  17 per cent from Germany;

    —  14 per cent from Australia;

    —  12 per cent from the USA;

    —  8 per cent from France; and

    —  5 per cent from Japan.

April 2001

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