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Foot-and-Mouth Effect on Tourism Is Mixed

April 29, 2001

Although Britain and Ireland this month moved aggressively to reopen sites closed to visitors because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic among livestock, the actions came too late to salvage vacation plans for many, especially hikers.

The disease, which can devastate livestock herds, is not viewed as a serious threat to humans. But because people can spread the virus on shoes and clothes, Britain has closed some farmland and other areas to visitors in affected regions.

The Wayfarers, a hiking tour operator based in Britain with a U.S. sales office in Newport, R.I., has canceled all its April, May and June trips to Britain and Ireland, said Judy Allpress, president of sales. (A July 1 walking vacation in Ireland was still on, as of the Travel section's press time last week.) Most customers were diverted to France, with the company picking up the tab for the extra transportation.

The livestock crisis so far has cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars or about 30% of its business, Allpress said. By contrast, Virgin Atlantic Airways' vacation division, which does most of its business in London packages, has experienced only a "slight dip" in bookings, a spokeswoman said.

This month Britain reported a decline in new cases of foot-and-mouth. It announced it had reopened 214 English Heritage sites, more than 300 National Trust sites and 144 Historic Houses Assn. sites. To check what is open, call 011-44-845-607-1071, http://www.co-or dination.gov.uk or http://www.openbri tain.gov.uk.

James McDaid, Ireland's minister for tourism, sport and recreation, said on a visit to Los Angeles last week that his country is "basically 99% back in business" after the European Union approved reopening an area on the Cooley Peninsula, about 50 miles from Dublin, where Ireland's only foot-and-mouth case was discovered. Canceled St. Patrick's Day festivities in Dublin have been rescheduled for May 18 to 20.

McDaid expects all of Ireland's parks to be reopened by May 15. Meanwhile, some visitor restrictions apply in rural areas, and the Dublin Zoo remains closed. For updates, call the Irish Tourist Board (800) 223-6470 or visit http://www.irelandvacations.com.

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