Cornwall B&B owner calls on First Great Western to pay for ad campaign
A Cornish bed and breakfast owner is calling on First Great Western to fund a marketing campaign for the Westcountry as compensation for "closing down" the peninsula.
When a landslide as a result of severe flooding closed the rail line between Exeter and Tiverton for five days last month, train operator First Great Western advised passengers not to travel by rail to Devon and Cornwall.
Sarah Horne, who has run the Roscrea B&B, in Bodmin, for the last eight years, lost a booking over Christmas as a result. Bookings for January and beyond are down on what she would expect. She blames it on FGW's "don't travel" message.
"I have lost out and so have quite a few other places," she complained. "How many people were there who didn't come down because they'd had the frighteners put on them? It seemed like they closed Cornwall down."
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Miss Horne is now calling on FGW to fund a marketing campaign to promote the Westcountry to restore its reputation in the minds of visitors.
"The First Great Western website was just saying 'don't go'. That message is going to stick in people's heads and people do think about booking a holiday at this time of year," she said.
It comes as the region's business and political leaders continue to lobby for infrastructure investment to ensure that rail routes remain open in event of extreme weather.
Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, said he would be adding Miss Horne's concerns to evidence being collated by the authorities to maintain this lobbying drive.
He said he understood why FGW had advised people not to travel by rail – but he warned this could impact on tourism well into 2013.
"If consumers feel that transport links are unreliable it can make a difference about whether they decide to go. People can easily go to somewhere like Suffolk of the Cotswolds instead of Cornwall and the rest of the South West," he said.
But with no mention of upgrades to the flood-hit Cowley Bridge junction in Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19, which was released yesterday, Mr Bell acknowledged that such investment could be a long way off.
"We need to know that plans are in place. These things do take time but it's all about taking a step in the right direction. It may take time but if people know that things will be resolved they are willing to put up with them for a while," he added.
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Somerset Local Enterprise Partnership, called on Network Rail to set out plans to protect the rail line from future extreme weather events. "We want to see a very clear plan for long-term resilience on the network. We have been seriously compromised on rail travel and we want to see long-term protection for Cowley Bridge," he said.
James Davis, a spokesman for FGW, said: "The closure of Cowley Bridge by Network Rail meant that we could not run train services into and out of the county and poor road conditions meant that we couldn't guarantee our customers would be able to complete their journeys by road. The right thing to do for our customers in these circumstances was to advise them not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
"We will continue to work with Devon and Cornwall tourism boards to promote the South West as a destination."