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Weather? We're heading into the unknown

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 15, 2014

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The West Country tourist industry should enjoy another boost this weekend, with forecasters predicting that two days of fog will give way to a spell of warm weather.

Temperatures are unlikely to hit the highs of last weekend, which saw visitors pulling out their summer shorts and heading to the beach. But the Met Office predicts the mercury will hit double figures on both days and long, sunny periods are to be expected. The forecasters cannot rule out misty mornings but they are not expecting a repeat of the fog which has caused misery for commuters over the last few days.

In one incident, a Wiltshire woman was killed when her car crashed into a lorry in thick fog – and the reduced visibility has been blamed for a spate of road accidents.

Racegoers struggled to reach the Cheltenham Festival and football match between Bitton and Bishop Sutton in Somerset was abandoned after just one minute.

Meanwhile, three people had to call the Coastguard yesterday after stumbling around blindly for three hours in dense fog near Kimnel Bay in Wales.

But the fog is expected to disappear today and tourist chiefs are hoping that temperatures of up to 15C will mean the industry can enjoy some welcome rays of sunshine after months of grey cloud.

Ever since Christmas TV images of flood-hit Somerset, wave-battered seafronts and railway tracks hanging by a thread have fuelled negative perceptions that the West Country is cut off and too dangerous to visit.

A survey of more than 500 businesses earlier this month revealed that trade was down by up to 20 per cent and two-thirds of those who took part had seen bookings plummet.

But now the coastal rail line is due to open in three weeks, earlier than expected, and the weather has returned to normal or above normal for the time of year.

And Bob Smart of Somerset Tourism Association said that next week would mark the start of a major campaign to let people know that the county is very much "open for business".

Billboards will go up at Heathrow Airport to persuade overseas visitors arriving in this country to visit the county – and tourism chiefs will spread the message on radio, TV and the roads as part of a concerted campaign.

Mr Smart said: "We had good weather last weekend, are expecting nice weather this weekend and everything is looking really good for the start of spring. We have been working with Visit England to get things back to normal in time for summer and we have a few campaigns coming up to get the message across. Effectively, less than three per cent of the county has been flooded and we need people to know that 97 per cent of Somerset is open for business. Traditionally the tourist industry is linked to decent weather so it might help people who are looking to book their summer holiday."

Carolyn Custerson, head of Visit Devon, said although bookings for Easter had been down by 23 per cent, there had been an "uplift" in the number of emails and enquiries this week.

"The good weather is key and last weekend was amazing," she said. "We saw people extending their stays by an extra day or so. It is only anecdotal evidence at the moment as we have only just sent our follow-up survey but what we are definitely seeing is a changing of the perception of the region as being closed and dangerous. We are feeling much more confident and the message is 'full steam ahead' for the industry."

Tourism chiefs are hoping that people haven't already decided to take family holidays abroad after seeing TV pictures of flooding.

"Visit England found that 10 per cent of people said they would not holiday in England – that's five million people whose minds have been changed," said Mrs Custerson.

The Government also announced a £2million fund to help flood-hit businesses and pay for a new publicity campaign to show the West Country is very much "open for business".

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