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Is Britain really open for business?

Bourton-on-the-Water
English Cotswold villages have seen their tourist trade slump  

By Richard Quest, CNN Business International presenter

BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER, England (CNN) -- The message on the "Foot-and-mouth Disease (Amendment) (England) Order, 2001" notice could not be clearer. The pathway is closed. Proceed no further. Don't even think about it.

For those who disobey and walk across this innocent looking path, the fines can be severe. This is foot-and-mouth country.

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Richard Quest visits foot-and-mouth country

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For walkers across England's beautiful countryside this is indeed a blow. One that has taken a terrible toll not only on the farming industry but also on tourism which is also a mainstay of this gorgeous part of Britain, the Cotswolds.

"It's a disaster" says Graeme Miles, owner of the Apple Pie House Hotel, Bourton-on-the-Water. A glance round his typical country house hotel confirms the worst. The pink covered chairs in the cutesy lounge are empty. The dining room is deserted.

"We didn't have anyone staying last night and no one tonight. After Easter… nothing and nothing doesn't pay the bills."

The situation is so bad that Miles's bank has agreed until the crisis is over, he will only pay interest on the mortgage for his hotel.

It has been grim ever since the disease was discovered and large parts of the Cotswolds were closed off to prevent its spread.

The postponement then the cancellation of the Cheltenham Horse Racing festival made things even worse. This area depends on Britain's largest racing event to bring it out of the winter slumber and prepare for the summer season.

The Apple Pie Hotel relies on this early trade to balance the books.

"Normally we come out of the winter months starting to pick up business and we use the Cheltenham Festival to get a bit of money before the summer season. It's not been good at all" says Miles.

Bourton-on-the-Water is an English country village out of central casting. The brook runs down the main street and on either side of the green are smart tea shops and souvenir sellers. They all report sales down by at least 20 per cent.

Richard Quest
Tourists don't understand what foot-and-mouth is, says Quest  

Barry Eason's Rose Tree Tea Shop is open for business and there are some tourists enjoying the scones but he too is worried about the future because of the popular perception that the countryside is closed.

"The real business comes from the tourists who stay in the B&B's, who come into town for their teas," he said. "We have five months in which to earn our living between Easter and the end of October. If we don't make it in the summer… We're dead."

The problem is that most tourists simply don't understand what foot-and-mouth actually is.

Across the village Green, John Fryer (owner of a rival tea shop owner -- they take their tea and scones very seriously here) has spent a lot of time explaining the disease to tourists.

"The Americans don't know what it is. They keep saying if they could catch it. They think humans can catch it."

This situation is made a great deal worse because it's not clear what is open and what is closed. The truth is the towns are indeed open. The Museums are ready for visitors and the shops and restaurants are waiting.

For "Ye Olde" English towns like these, in the Cotswolds, this is the time to make or break. If the tourists stay away then there simply won't be the cash to seem the shops through the lean winter months.

"If things don't get better, then by June the cash flow will have forced us out," said one.

And the irony in all of this: When we visit the countryside, most of us don't tramp over fields. We don't want to get our city shoes and designer "country" boots dirty.

For our needs clotted cream teas and a brisk walk round the green is more than enough. Curiosity shopping and buying souvenirs. Pubs and cafes. They are all there and ready. The tourists who stay away are indeed missing out.



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RELATED SITES:
English Tourist Board
Cotswolds Hyperguide
UK Ministry of Agriculture

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