Memorandum submitted by the Youth Hostel
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
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,
17 per cent from Germany;
14 per cent from Australia;
12 per cent from the USA;
8 per cent from France; and