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14.02.06
Countryside is rising star of tourism in the South West

A family enjoying a rural break - photo by Richard AustinNew figures released today, in the first half-term holiday period of 2006, show that more people want to stay on farms and in the countryside when they take a break in the South West than ever before.

The figures are from one of the region's leading tourism organisations, Cartwheel, which is reporting record levels of interest in rural breaks and holidays via its website. There's also been a marked switch from speculative to decisive traffic, which means more people are booking as well as looking.

Last month the website clocked up a record 29,040 unique visitors, 38 per cent up on January 2005, with a huge 81 per cent increase in further enquiries about booking holidays. After mixed results for the South West's tourism industry as a whole last year, these figures are excellent early indicators for the 2006 season according to Gina Woodcraft, chief executive of Cartwheel.

"Rural tourism is definitely a rising star," says Gina Woodcraft. "It performed consistently well last year while business dropped off in many other holiday sectors. This year there's even more interest, particularly from people looking for short breaks all year round. The increasing professionalism of farm and countryside tourism businesses is paying off and I believe we can expect excellent growth this year and into the future. Our farming industry is under such pressure right now and we know from experience that tourism can be a lifeline for farmers who want to stay on the land. We're helping them to help themselves with practical advice on how to develop a professional and competitive enterprise. So a record level of interest in countryside breaks is excellent news for South West farmers, our countryside, environment and economy. Everybody will benefit."

Based on its new figures Cartwheel is estimating that its website alone generated more than £13.1 million of new business for the region last year. It expects this to rise a further 15 per cent in 2006. Rural tourism currently accounts for 20 per cent of the region's tourism economy, more than 30 per cent of which, according to Cartwheel, is fuelled by people from within the region.

Nick Buckland, deputy director of the South West Regional Development Agency personally supports Cartwheel's work to strengthen the region's rural economy. "The agricultural community in the South West of England deserves good news," he says. "Success like this will lift spirits and give confidence to a sector that needs a champion like Cartwheel to serve its best interests."

Guest house Buttervilla near St Germans in South East Cornwall is a new Cartwheel member, already benefiting from the increased level of holiday interest via the Cartwheel website.

"We are eco-friendly so rely on online advertising to attract visitors," says Buttervilla owner Robert Hocking. "Cartwheel's given us great support in this venture. We have more hits via the Cartwheel website than any of the other tourist sites we're registered with, which underlines that it's a major portal for people searching for rural breaks and its analysis of the market has always been spot on. We're confident the new season will bring with it the new business we all need to prosper."

Cartwheel's website figures for January 2006 compared to January 2005:

highest ever number of unique visitors at 29,040 – increase of 38 per cent;
26,096 views of members' ads – 47 per cent increase;
more than 10,000 (36 per cent) web visitors went on to make further booking enquiries – an 85 per cent increase on January 2005;

Cartwheel is a membership organisation dedicated to promoting rural tourism in the South West. In Cornwall it is one of the very few private sector organisations to administer an Objective One gateway fund investment scheme, and over the past four years has awarded almost £2 million to Cornish farm and countryside tourism businesses to part-fund marketing projects and activities. Despite its phenomenal success, Cartwheel remains a small organisation with fewer than four members of staff. For more information about Cartwheel and its members visit www.cartwheelholidays.co.uk.

For further information please contact Veronica Newport of NPR on 01363 866927 or email: veronica@n-pr.co.uk.

The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in the Cartwheel project through the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).

Anyone considering a new horticulture, food and land based industries project is advised to speak with Maria Ford, at Government Office South West - 01752 635015 - before commencing development as there are now only limited funds available due to the successful uptake of funding by the agricultural sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

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Editor's notes:

Website value calculations are based on the number of 'further interest actions', ie. linking through to Cartwheel members' own websites from which bookings are made. In 2005 this figure was 60,000. Cartwheel estimates that 25 per cent of these (15,000) will have gone on to make a booking with an average value of £350 (based on a three night stay for three people). This suggests business via the Cartwheel website can be valued in excess of £5.25 million, plus 1.5 times this figure (tourism multiplier figure for wider spend in the region) resulting in £13.1 million. Given that 2006 figures are already significantly ahead of 2005, this is probably a conservative estimate.

Cartwheel is the South West of England's leading farm and rural holiday company, offering visitors the chance to enjoy a unique countryside experience. It is a private sector limited company run by farmers, committed to raising the standard and profile of rural tourism in the South West.

All Cartwheel members are independently inspected according to the company's quality criteria which encompasses accommodation, local food, green tourism and sustainable land management.

Cartwheel administers the Objective One funded Rural Tourism Marketing Grants scheme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The scheme can award 50% grants to fund projects with a total value of up to £100,000. Projects with a total value of less than £3,000 can be dealt with through the 'fast track' process, providing a response within two weeks. Larger grant applications take between four and six weeks to process.

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Clare Morgan
Media Relations Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Mobile: 07973 813647
Telephone: 01872 223439

cmorgan@cornwall.gov.uk

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