It is important that the industry maintains a balanced perspective on Avian Flu. It must be borne in mind that lessons learned from the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis will enable the tourism industry to prepare for and counter any potential impact on the Yorkshire tourism industry.
The first case of FMD in Yorkshire was confirmed on 7 March 2001. This had an immediate impact on the rural tourism industry and feedback from the tourism industry suggested that for March alone 70% of businesses across Yorkshire reported a decrease in enquiries. 69% reported a decrease in turnover, 67% reported a decrease in U.K./Day visitors and 16% laid off staff in that month.
In monetary terms, the outbreak cost Yorkshire’s tourism industry approximately £60-£75 million per month. Yorkshire Tourist Board’s (YTB) FMD Tourism Impact Monitor suggested that in total £500 million of turnover was lost for the period of March – August 2001 with rural tourism businesses realising approximately £270 million.
How adequate were the contingency plans at national and local levels for dealing with foot and mouth disease in Great Britain? What were the specific strengths and weaknesses?
The FMD outbreak struck unexpectedly and seemingly caused a knee jerk reaction. From the very first case confirmed in Northumbria in February 2001, the country began to pay the price of what was effectively national PR crisis management, not the considered and level headed approach that would assist in the containment of the outbreak.
Whilst contingency plans were evident at a national level, the opportunity to localise the plans should have been both encouraged and communicated. Instead, through the lack of guidance, communication and time, the national contingency plans appeared to be implemented across the board, irrespective of localised effort to customise the plans. This action was inappropriate and once instigated, very difficult to change.
It was very clear to all publics what the national contingency plans for dealing with FMD were.
Strong communication on a national level made it extremely difficult to communicate to the consumer what the regional situation was. In February, when Northumbria were experiencing first hand the devastation of FMD, Yorkshire did not have a single case. Despite this, the mixed messages communicated, i.e. nationally and locally, resulted in mass confusion amongst the general public. Further to the national communication, people thought they were being responsible citizens if they just simply avoided the countryside. The result was that the countryside was branded as ‘closed’.
Whilst MAFF prohibited access to FMD outbreak areas, through the 10km exclusion zone, only farms were being compensated for loss of livestock. However, the knock on effect for the rural tourism industry was equally as devastating, yet there was no provision for compensation for these tourism operators.
MAFF advised the public that only essential trips to the exclusion zones should be made. To this effect it would be plausible to assume that closure notices would be issued to all businesses falling within the exclusion zones. However, only farms were issued with a Notice D and this caused great confusion both with the businesses located within the exclusion zones and with concerned potential visitors.
It was unclear whether MAFF deemed holidays to be “essential trips” and it proved difficult to get a definitive answer. Such sweeping statements about access to the country were communicated by MAFF with little consideration for tourism operators and no provision of information relating specifically to tourism visits. This also meant that insurance cover businesses already had in place was not valid.
Blanket closures of footpaths:
The country experienced blanket closures of footpaths, irrespective of the number of outbreaks per county and the specific location of FMD outbreaks. Understandably the main priority was to stop the spread of the disease, but to close all footpaths was both high handed and unnecessary.
To try and counter this negative perception, YTB set about to try and promote responsible tourism. Messages communicated to the public tried to clarify that whilst the footpaths were closed, the countryside was open. However, due to the previous message communicated which indicated that the countryside was closed, the general public decided to stay away in droves. This impacted severely on rural tourism businesses.
Blanket Re-opening of footpaths:
At a time when Yorkshire was suffering from an influx of new cases, Central Government enforced a blanket re-opening of footpaths, with exceptions for those regions still experiencing outbreaks. Again communication to the media and the public was that all footpaths were open and this was not the case in Yorkshire. Yet another example of a national plan overriding the regional/local situation.
How effective and timely was the Government’s response to the emerging crisis nationally and in local communities?
The Government initially viewed FMD as a farming crisis and did not accept, understand or make provision for the impact on the tourism industry. YTB lobbied Government throughout the crisis to stress how farming and tourism are two industries reliant on each other and to provide hard statistics on the volume and value of tourism in comparison to the agricultural industry. The fact that the tourism industry in Yorkshire accounts for 7% of the workforce, generating £3,337,000000 revenue per annum and 7% GDP and agriculture only 1%, generating £515,970,000 revenue per annum and 1% GDP appeared initially to fall on deaf ears.
Government’s lack of recognition of the value of tourism began to divide local communities and instill a ‘them and us’ attitude. Instead of working together, for the first time, farming and tourism were finding themselves in conflict, competing for funding.
In the run up to the elections, the Government decided to take a greater interest, realising that this crisis was going to last and was infact one of the worst crisis ever to be seen in England. They began to empathise with the tourism industry and indicated that further funding would be forthcoming.
Local communities welcomed the Prime Minister, Tony Blair and William Hague, MP. Suffering rural tourism businesses asked for help and were promised it. Specific cases of rural tourism businesses suffering were raised in the House of Commons but it was difficult to see any real positive outcome. It became evident that the crisis was being used as a lobbying tactic for scoring points off the opposition and gaining the public’s support.
The delay of the General Elections were communicated to be because of the FMD crisis. The country was reeling from the outbreak and the Government showed sympathy, allowing time for rural communities to concentrate on the crisis. However, no sooner were the General Elections over than the Government was in recess for the summer holidays. It was after the Elections that Settle saw an influx of cases, contributing to the fact that Yorkshire was to be the third worst affected county in England. The region had missed out on funding and rural tourism businesses were suffering with little hope or optimism for the future.
Overall, the Government’s response to funding was inconsistent.
Pre-Easter 2001 funding devolved to the English Tourism Council (ETC) at the start of the crisis for short term marketing was limited and disproportionately awarded to the regions. More funding was granted to those regions with the most number of cases of FMD which was not appropriate. Even if a region had just one confirmed case of FMD, then the rural communities would suffer. Yorkshire is a clear example. With initially only a handful of confirmed cases, by the end of the crisis, Yorkshire was infact the third worst affected region.
ETC’s bid for £35 million of additional funding to develop and implement a medium to long term recovery plan for England was delayed by HM Treasury. Whilst the crisis had resulted in the tourism industry becoming a higher priority on the Government’s agenda, the lack of further funding to support the true value of the industry was not acceptable. In total ETC received just £3.8 million for initial activity until mid-May.
When Cultural Secretary, Chris Smith announced a £12 million cash boost for tourism in May 2001, nothing was given to promote domestic tourism even though it was this market that provides 80% of England’s tourism business. All £12 million was devolved to the British Tourist Authority (BTA) for international marketing only.
£2.5 million was devolved to Yorkshire Forward for hardship and recovery grants. This fund was oversubscribed by 700% and so in October 2001 a further £2 million was allocated. However, for a number of tourism operators this was too little and too late.
What roles did MAFF/DEFRA, the State Veterinary Service, the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, local government, the Armed Forces and others play in the crisis? Were they adequately organised, co-ordinated and resourced to do so?
The main criticism with MAFF/DEFRA was communication. They proved difficult to contact, some farm tourism operators finding it difficult to even get through to the switchboard to inform them that they suspected FMD on their premises. The slaughter procedure then took an unacceptable length of time, which could have played a part in spread of the disease.
Stories of burning livestock at the side of roads, the inhumane and unprofessional slaughter of livestock and disposal vehicles dripping blood on the roads etc were all communicated via the media. These images were used again and again by the media and caused unprecedented damage, impacting heavily on the tourism industry. The coverage reinforced the uncertainty, confusion and fear potential visitors already had.
www.maff.gov.uk was the main communication tool utilised by YTB. However, whilst this medium was updated regularly initially, as the crisis grew, the web site got more and more out of date and typically ran approximately 48 hours behind.
The general lack of communication resulted in operators hearing about infection through rumours rather than through the official body. MAFF officials were blatantly parading around local communities, checking into local bed and breakfasts, thus fuelling the rumours that the disease was about to be confirmed in specific areas. This caused great upset and worry to local communities.
With the re-opening of footpaths, again communication was lacking. This contributed to the problem of dividing local communities. Farmers, through fear of their own livelihood, did not openly welcome walkers back into the countryside, irrespective of the fact that not one case of FMD was ever proven to have been spread from walkers. Angry demonstrations by farmers and photocopied ‘closure’ notices pasted over ‘open’ signs were reported by the media, which again contributed to the fear and uncertainty being felt by potential holidaymakers.
MAFF/DEFRA appeared to be inadequately organised, not resourced sufficiently to handle the scale of the crisis and uncoordinated.
State Veterinary Service:
Feedback suggested that untrained people were taken on to carry out the slaughter of livestock. This suggests that the State Veterinary Service was not sufficiently resourced. Local farmers were not encouraged to help vets round up animals which meant that the veterinary service lacked the local knowledge needed to effectively carry out the slaughter.
Feedback from local communities suggested that rogue livestock suspected of carrying FMD were being missed and therefore still roaming the land and potentially spreading the disease. This impacted on the tourism industry in terms of the longevity of the crisis.
In conjunction with YTB, local Government took a lead role in co-ordinating regular meetings for regional stakeholders to communicate local news and developments. This resulted in a co-ordinated and coherent approach to the tackling of the outbreak.
However, with regard to footpaths, once the blanket closures were enforced by central Government, the lack of power to re-open footpaths on a local level was frustrating. Control should have been given to local Government much sooner. The process of liaising with central Government slowed the whole process down. The tourism industry, already well into the season and suffering greatly, desperately needed the good news that footpaths were being reopened. However, the process was so lengthy that the good intentions of striving to re-open specific footpaths and/or specific parts of footpaths, was lost.
The Armed Forces:
Co-ordination of the Armed Forces could have been better.
Following the spate of cases reported in the Settle area in May 2001, the Army closed roads in the Settle/Giggleswick/Malham area for the culling and removal of animals. There was no advance communication as to which roads were being closed, when they were being closed and for how long. This response appeared to be unjustified and in terms of the tourism industry was unacceptable.
How ready was the farming industry to handle a major infectious disease like foot and mouth and did the existing national and EU regulatory regimes have any influence? What more could be done to prepare for possible future outbreaks of infectious disease?
Not in a position to comment.
Once the scale of the crisis became clear, was the response proportionate to the impact on the wider rural and UK economy?
Unfortunately it was the response to the crisis that contributed to its scale. If the countryside had never been branded as closed in the first place then, from a tourism perspective, the scale of the crisis would not have been as great. The response to the outbreak caused confusion amongst the general public and created the perception that the countryside was closed. Research showed that there was a drop in consumer intentions to take a holiday in the country, despite messages from Government and in the media to the contrary.
Once it became evident that FMD was to be one of the worst crises ever to be seen in England, the response from Central Government did seem to be proportionate to the impact on the wider rural and UK economy. However, as highlighted, whilst tourism at last became part of the political agenda, actions to substantiate the promises made did not materialise. It took almost a year for Government to get actively involved in marketing campaigns in the long term recovery from FMD. Help would have been appreciated in the short term.
Would the use of vaccination have made any difference to the scale and/or duration of the outbreak, and its wider impact?
Yes the use of vaccination would have made a difference to both the scale and the duration of the outbreak. However, if vaccination were to have been administered in part, then it is difficult to comment on how this would have affected the scale of the crisis.
From a purely tourism point of view the ideal solution would be to vaccinate across the board. In other words, to vaccinate all livestock throughout England, therefore, eliminating any ‘crisis’. Taking France and the Netherlands as an example, livestock was vaccinated immediately which contained any outbreak efficiently and effectively.
Vaccination may be unrealistic due to the wider farming implications of export. However, in comparison, the loss to tourism exports equated to £2.5 billion. If vaccination had been administered, the outbreak would not have impacted on the tourism industry as there would have been no requirement to close footpaths or even remotely suggest that the countryside was out of bounds.
What could have been done differently to alleviate the economic, social and animal welfare impact of the unprecendented level of culling and disposal?
The route of vaccination may have been a more cost effective solution. This would have immediately contained the outbreak, thus alleviating the unprecedented level of culling and disposal.
Careful thought should have been given to the culling of livestock, i.e. the time of day, where they are killed etc, to avoid unnecessary upset to the people within the local communities. Stories of children travelling to school on a school bus passing burning pyres and seeing dead livestock by the side of the road was very upsetting.
Efficient and effective culling by trained professionals should have consistently been carried out. The public witnessed the media exposing cases of livestock being shot but not killed and subsequently writhing in agony for hours before eventually being put out of their misery and burned.
How effective were the communications systems for handling and responding to the outbreak?
The communications systems in place appeared to be adequate in the early stages of the outbreak. For instance, www.maff.org.uk was comprehensive, informative and a useful point of contact. However, due to the scale of the outbreak, it soon became clear that the communication systems in place lacked co-ordination.
A number of Foot and Mouth groups were set up around the county, some instigated by MAFF, the Armed Forces, NFU, public bodies or just interested parties. Countless meetings duplicated effort and dialogue and appeared to go around in circles as they lacked direction and appeared to have no tangible outcome. There was no clear leading body to take charge. This resulted in a fragmented and disjointed approach to the crisis.
As mentioned earlier the main criticism with MAFF/DEFRA was communication. They proved difficult to contact, some farm tourism operators finding it difficult to even get through to the switchboard to inform them that they suspected FMD on their premises. The slaughter procedure then took an unacceptable length of time, which could have played a part in spread of the disease.