Popular Cotswolds tourist village ‘unusually quiet’ as coronavirus fears spread

Businesses in what is normally a bustling tourist destination in the Cotswolds say coronavirus fears have left their village “unusually quiet”.

Bourton-on-the-Water is described as a “must see” location for visitors travelling to the region, which itself attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

But shop owners and staff in the Gloucestershire village say earnings and footfall have been in decline since the start of 2020 following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Elsewhere, Blenheim Palace – located on the edge of the Cotswolds in Oxfordshire – also said Chinese tour groups were “largely absent” in February.

Blenheim Palace golden toilet theft
Blenheim Palace golden toilet theft

John McCabe, director of Cotswold China and Cookware in Bourton-on-the-Water, said his takings for January and February were down by 20% for the first time in 15 years.

He told the PA news agency said: “What we would normally see outside the front of our store from 10am onwards is five or six nice Mercedes or VW minibuses full of Far Eastern visitors, but they have disappeared.

“Our biggest concern now is that it (the village) is known for Far Eastern visitors (to come) here and it will put off UK visitors.”

Mr McCabe said the business largely relies on visitors, with tourists from countries including China, South Korea and Japan making up about 50% of his trade during the winter months.

“Going forward is my concern, with British visitors running scared,” he added.

Sonia Webley, assistant manager at the nearby Gifts Be Mine store, said that, while January and February are typically quiet months, daily takings are down compared with 2019.

She said: “It is unusually quiet here. We normally get coaches (of tourists) coming in on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, but it does not appear that way at the moment.

“It (trade) needs to pick up, but I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Blenheim Palace golden toilet theft
Blenheim Palace golden toilet theft

Meanwhile, Blenheim Palace’s chief executive, Dominic Hare, said overseas visitor numbers had dropped, particularly Chinese tour groups.

He said: “The group market this time of year is dominated by the Chinese because of all the travelling around Chinese New Year.

“We would normally have expected 10% to 15% of our February audience to be Chinese, but for most of February they were largely absent.”

The estate, which is famed as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, sees just under a million visitors each year.

But Mr Hare said he could expect to see a 10% drop in visitor numbers should the “impact sustain” for 12 months.

“We are a strong business and we are lucky we can manage that kind of vulnerability,” he said, adding that UK visitor numbers are “still strong”.

Blenheim Palace’s website states that visitors will be welcomed with a “warm smile” rather than a handshake following the coronavirus outbreak.

Government scientific experts predict that the UK’s coronavirus outbreak could last around four to six months.

Globally, there are now more than 90,000 cases worldwide, with more than 3,000 deaths.