West Cornwall tourism awaits what the season may bring
THE west Cornwall tourism industry is anxiously holding its breath as it waits to see what this season has in store.
After a tumultuous 2012 which saw businesses fighting against the recession and one of the wettest summers on record, many are banking on this year being a success.
Bookings at some tourist spots are down, visitor numbers have dropped and the industry knows it is going to have to work harder to draw in the paying crowds.
But despite this, there is optimism that the coming season will bring a boost to flagging fortunes.
"Last year was a bit of a mixed bag," said Paul Ford of the St Ives Chamber of Commerce.
"There were traders who did well and traders who struggled. It was an OK year but not an exciting one. Because of the bad weather last year everybody expects this year is going to be a tough one and the weather so far hasn't helped."
He said this week had seen an increase in visitors, which was bringing smiles to the faces of businesspeople.
"I think 'holding their breath' is a good phrase," he said. "It's not looking quite as bad as we thought it might be, so let's see how it pans out over the next three or four weeks."
Admitting that the grounding of the helicopter service from Penzance, along with the closure over winter of Land's End Airport due to a rain-soaked runway, had had an impact, Arnaud Reutsch, chairman of the Penzance and District Tourism Association, said the industry was up against it this year.
"We lost of lot of people because of that," he said.
"All the people using the plane out of season did not come to Penzance because they were flying out of Newquay. Everyone lost a bit of money. That wasn't good at all.
"It is going to get tougher and tougher, but this is all the better for the customer because they are getting a better service. Fifteen years ago you could get away with a greasy breakfast and a room and people would be happy but it doesn't work like that any more. People are demanding more for their money and I think that is a good thing."
He added that another factor to hit guest houses and tourist spots was the changing habits of holidaymakers. Many, he said, no longer booked far in advance, with some even booking when they were already on their way.
A major blow to the industry's finances came with the poor weather last summer. Malcolm Bell, head of VisitCornwall, said an estimated £13 million was lost from the local economy because of it.
"We will suffer from a loss of business because of the weather we have had but hopefully it will come back later in the year," he said, adding that cash could be tight for some in the tourism industry thanks to a long winter but Easter is their first chance to recoup any losses.
"The Easter break is worth £50 million to the county," he said.
The timing of this latest cold snap, which has left much of the country battling freezing temperatures and snow flurries, has not helped.
Boo Parkman, who runs the Bostrase B&B at Hayle with husband Matt, said: "We've only been in the industry for two and a half years so it's all quite new to us.
"We have cancellations when there's bad weather; last June wasn't very good and people didn't turn up, but that's what happens. The rest of the summer was fantastic.
"Because we've got this snap of cold weather and all the media say we've got another two weeks of cold weather, even though it's so different down here people are staying away – this time last year we were much busier. We're booked up over Easter but then quiet."
Agreeing that the weather put a dampener on things was Paradise Park's director Alison Hales.
"Two wet summers have shown us how wise it was to invest in a really big indoor play centre," she said.
"It's a really good resource for local families who pop in to play in the winter."
Now celebrating its 40th year, the business is looking forward to a strong summer.
"If February half-term is anything to go by then we will be expecting slightly more visitors than last year," she said.
"It would be really helpful if the weather would be kind to us this year – for the birds and flowers as well as visitors."
Despite weather worries, the west Cornwall tourism industry can celebrate the findings of a visitor survey carried out by VisitCornwall.
The organisation found that St Ives and Penzance were among the top five most mentioned locations in the county.
St Ives also came out on top when people were asked which town they would like to visit. Penzance and Newlyn were fourth on the list.
Brian Trevena runs St Margarets Guest House in St Ives with his wife Sandra.
He said: "I feel better about this season. Bookings for Easter are not as good as last year but bookings for summer are better. In January and February we took twice as many bookings as last year; it's looking quite good.
"This will be our 16th season; things have changed a lot."