Tourism should be sustainable and emphasise the Forest as a place for the quiet enjoyment of its special qualities
Tourism makes the single most important contribution to the economy of the New Forest, providing about 30% of all jobs and with an annual value of £156 million (2001 figures). The industry has the potential for generating further local employment and buoyancy in other areas of the rural economy, as well as contributing a source of funding for the good management of the Forest itself.
The attraction of the New Forest as a holiday destination is firmly rooted in the unique experience of the Forest landscape and culture. There is therefore an important interdependency between the tourism industry and other aspects of the rural economy, particularly commoning and traditional farming (but also local crafts and rural industries), all of which have helped create and continue to maintain that landscape and culture.
Visitors to the New Forest can be categorised into three groups: day visitors, local visitors and staying visitors. Day visitors are those who travel from outside the New Forest either from home or from a holiday elsewhere and who return the same day. Local visitors are those who live within, or close to, the New Forest, but visit it for recreation and leisure. Staying visitors are those on holiday staying within the New Forest.
The tourism industry in the Forest aims largely at encouraging staying visitors, who overall make by far the largest contribution to the local economy. The needs and management implications of local and day visitors are discussed separately in section.
Staying visitors use either serviced accommodation in hotels, guest houses, pubs, inns or B&Bs, or self catering accommodation in the various holiday and caravan parks, campsites, holiday cottages and one youth hostel (with some serviced accommodation).
Serviced accommodation provides the greatest per capita income for the local economy, with visitors more likely to use other local facilities, such as shops, restaurants and local visitor attractions. The numbers of visitors staying in serviced accommodation has increased only slightly over the last 10 years (at present around 2.8 million visitor nights each year). The accommodation capacity is reached during the peak periods, particularly before and after the school holidays, but not at other times of the year. Nevertheless the annual value of tourism has almost doubled over this time, due to both improved marketing and increased visitor spending.
Serviced accommodation at present can only cater for a relatively small proportion of the total number of visitors staying in the Forest (about 4,500 bed spaces available) and is widely distributed across the Forest, with some concentration in Ringwood, Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Lymington. Of the total of 25,000 bed spaces available to visitors about 20,500 are provided by self-catering accommodation. This is a very high proportion compared to other visitor destinations nearby, and to regional and national averages. Apart from the few larger holiday centres, the Forest’s self-catering accommodation is heavily oriented towards camping and caravanning.
The Forestry Commission manages 10 campsites with a total of 3,320 pitches, while other sites provide a total of approximately 1,400 pitches on 11 sites. Camping and caravan sites generate about £12.5 million annually and therefore can make a significant contribution to the local economy. Section 5.2 includes a more detailed discussion of issues relating to campsites.
New Forest District Council, as the local authority covering the majority of the Forest area, has achieved a high level of success in coordinating a sustainable approach to tourism in the Forest. This success has been based on partnership, which brings together the four cornerstones of sustainable tourism – visitors, tourism industry, local community and environmental groups – to improve mutual understanding and seek agreed solutions to current issues. The industry is represented by the New Forest Tourism Association, an independent voice for about 300 local businesses, which has maintained a strong relationship with the Council’s Tourism Service. The Association recognises the important links between tourism, land management and the Forest environment.
‘Our Future Together – A Tourism and Visitor Management Strategy for the New Forest’, originally published in 1998, sets out policies and projects for sustainable tourism in New Forest District, based on the partnership approach outlined above. The document is currently being updated and is due to be published shortly. It will contain the same basic principles and policies, but include some new objectives reflecting the progress made over the
last five years.