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Storm disruption leaves Penzance missing holiday visitors

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: February 27, 2014

  • Will there be vacancies at hotels in Penzance for the forseeable future? Philippe LeFevre, manager at The Beachfield Hotel is concerned. PZPM20140225B-002_C.JPG

  • Philippe LeFevre, manager of the Beachfield Hotel.

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THE severing of the West's rail lines by storms saw half-term visitor numbers in Penzance fall by as much as 30 per cent.

Now traders say they fear the downturn could continue into the vital Easter holidays.

The storms caused extensive structural damage around Penzance's harbour and promenade and this, coupled with the disruption to rail services into the county, saw hotels and guesthouses hit by last-minute cancellations.

Tourism body VisitCornwall said in the county as a whole visitor numbers were down 10 to 15 per cent, with lost business estimated at up to £6 million – but in Penzance takings have fallen by as much as 30 per cent year on year.

Arnaud Ruetsch, proprietor of the Blue Seas Hotel and chairman of the Penzance and District Tourism Association, said: "There have been quite a few cancellations.

"Up until the bad weather bookings were good; since then it's almost stopped."

Up to 40 per cent of his customers normally arrived by train, he said: "We're really, really quiet. Why would people come to Penzance when they can stay in North Cornwall or Devon where it's easier to get to? Everybody has been affected one way or another."

After mountainous seas caused part of the railway line at Dawlish to collapse, rail services from Paddington into Cornwall face disruption until at least April 18.

Penzance's railway station has also been closed for almost two weeks after severe flooding on Valentine's Day, and trains terminate at St Erth. Network Rail said there was extensive damage to signals and track and was unable to say yesterday when it might reopen.

Business leaders say they fear it will have an adverse effect on Easter trading.

Statesman Rail, a Cornwall- based leisure train operator which runs a luxury service from Leeds and the Midlands into Penzance, has cancelled a tour for 300 guests in April, with a knock-on effect on hotels they would have used.

The Beachfield Hotel, which was fully booked for the trip, is now empty for that whole weekend in April. Manager Philippe LeFevre said: "Every day we have cancellations. Last week we had 12. We don't know when the line will be open."

Dick Cliffe, chairman of Penzance Chamber of Commerce, said the town faced uncertainty over visitor numbers until the line was restored.

"The railway line is strategically important," he said. "There's growing uncertainty about whether it's going to be open at Easter. It's not good; it sends out all the wrong messages. We're dependent down here on that business."

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