‘Hit and miss’ North Devon tourist season

12:42 03 September 2014

Sunbathers cool off in the sea at a packed Woolacombe beach in early August. Pic: Guy Harrop.

Sunbathers cool off in the sea at a packed Woolacombe beach in early August. Pic: Guy Harrop.

Archant

A turbulent year of flooding and ‘the Gove effect’ has seen good trading for some during the holiday season, but others have struggled...

North Devon’s tourist season has been hit and miss as the industry battles to overcome the legacy of winter floods and the ‘Gove effect’.

That is the message from tourism bosses and accommodation owners, still dealing with national press reports that declared the South West ‘closed’ after February’s flooding at Dawlish and in Somerset.

This has been compounded by education secretary Michael Gove’s move to fine parents who take their children out of school during term time.

While some are struggling, others have enjoyed a good season, with Ilfracombe declaring it was ‘bucking the trend’ and North Devon’s campsites and attractions relishing a good summer.

‘Turbulent’

According to Visit Devon, the overall picture has not been good and data it has commissioned shows North Devon and Torridge lost some £3.5million in January and February plus another £2m in bookings at Easter.

Vice chairman Carolyn Custerson told the North Devon Gazette 2014 had been a turbulent year: “We have been seeing growth since 2011 and were hopeful about 2014, but there was significant damage done in February, a key time for forward bookings,” she said.

“There is no doubt the ‘Gove effect’ has resulted in reduced occupancy during term time.”

Holiday cottages owner Jane Cook at Pickwell Barton near Georgeham is part of the North Devon Farm Holidays Group, a co-operative of accommodation providers. She said ‘variable’ was the best way to sum up the season.

“The niche markets are doing well and we have B and B ladies who are doing well. In my larger cottage I am probably having the best year for several years, but some in our group are having an absolutely dire season,” she said.

Great for attractions

Rick Turner at The Big Sheep near Abbotsham said it had been almost perfect weather for attractions: “We were down in June by 17 per cent, but up in July and quite significantly up in August,” he said.

“This last week has been the busiest we have had in 26 years and by about 10 per cent more as well. Our Atlantis Adventure Park has done very well, up by about 23 per cent on the year to date.

“I think most of the attractions have done very well in the last four weeks. The success of the season comes down to one month and as we had a very good August that has made it for us.”

John Fowler Holidays was hit by the February flood effect, but launched a big marketing campaign – including television adverts for the first time in years – and managed to turn the tide.

“By the time we got to mid-February it had hit us quite hard but as the season has gone on it has built up and we went on to have a very strong season. We were booked up throughout the school holidays and had to turn bookings away,” said sales and marketing manager Cathie Whormsley.

Watermouth Valley campsite has had one of its better years and taken advantage of decent camping weather.

“We have 135 pitches and throughout the summer they have been pretty much full and we have been turning people away during the school holidays,” said Chris Wassall at the site.

“Other site owners I have spoken to have said they have had a good season.”

Upwardly mobile Ilfracombe...

Ilfracombe is full of good reports – Sharon Furmston at The Collingdale Guest House said the town had been ‘absolutely buzzing this year’.

“We have just had our best July and August since we opened in 2003 and having spoken to various other businesses throughout the town they have also said they have had an excellent summer.”

Rod Chatfield of Varley House guest house said bookings were up by about five per cent on last year, and the previous three years had all seen a 10 per cent plus increase.

Lawrence Raybone at Ilfracombe Aquarium said there had been ‘a very large number of visitors from both UK and mainland Europe this summer in Ilfracombe’.

“We are generally very pleased with how things have gone here at the aquarium, with high levels of both new and return visitors and the general positive feedback bodes well for us and for Ilfracombe.”

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