Westcountry tourism businesses enjoyed a busy, and for some record-breaking, Easter weekend after fears that lingering memories of winter storm damage could have deterred visitors.
Crowds flocked to the region’s beaches and attractions as Devon and Cornwall basked in warm spring sunshine on both Friday and Saturday.
And although the bank holiday weekend looked to be ending on a soggy note, as rain spread across the region today, industry leaders and businesses were pleasantly surprised by strong visitor numbers.
“We are not as recovered from the storms as we would like to be,” Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, said. “And we are probably about 10% down on staying visitors this year, mainly among the smaller accommodation providers.
“But the good weather gets the people of Cornwall out and about and the cafes, shops, restaurants and bar have done well from local trade.
“Overall, Easter will be looked at as being okay although it could have been far worse but for the weather.”
The major concern for the industry, a mainstay of the Westcountry economy, had been the prolonged closure of the main railway line at Dawlish because of severe storm damage.
And while the route opened ahead of schedule, and in time for Easter, other repair work around the coast remains a work in progress.
Carolyn Custerson, chairman of Visit Devon, stressed the importance of continuing support for the region.
“Bookings up to Easter were about 23% down across the county, so the crisis earlier this year cost Devon around £31 million,” she said.
“Our tourism businesses support over 74,000 jobs so Visit Devon is delighted that the sunny Easter has brought so many visitors back to the county. It is vital we continue to encourage anyone looking to book a break to support Devon this year.”
As the region enjoyed long spells of sunshine over the first half of the weekend, attractions reported significant increases in footfall.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey, reported an 18% rise in visitor numbers for April while leading French restaurant Bistrot Pierre, in Plymouth, saw an increase of 15%.
For Pennywell Farm, near Buckfastleigh, Good Friday was its best day for visitors in 25 years.
“The outstandingly busy Friday, which showed a 222% increase in visitors compared with 2013 Good Friday, was followed by a superb Saturday, which showed a more modest increase of 38%,” owner Chris Murray said.
“The weather has a huge influence and the Good Friday of 2013 was wet. Nevertheless it is very reassuring for a mature business to have such increases in visitors over this key holiday of the year.
“Between brilliant weather, the Devon is Open campaign, a multi-award winning attraction, great value, and the feel good factor coming back into the national economic climate has made the Easter holidays of 2014 a record breaking success.”
He added: “It is fantastic having such a strong and loyal customer base, one we appreciate and count our blessings for enormously.
“Add this to nearly two weeks of school holiday sunshine and we have much to be grateful for this April.
“It is the positive boost that Pennywell and Devon needed and we have every reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season.”
East Devon attraction Otterton Mill were also celebrating their busiest Easter ever.
“We’d been worried about Easter, knowing tourism bookings have been down after all the severe weather this winter,” said Simon Spiller, co-owner with wife Caroline.
“However, the combined effects of the Open for Business campaign by South West tourism businesses and summer-like weather brought the crowds to us this weekend.
“This has provided a much needed cash-flow boost after the Mill, like many other tourism businesses in the South West, saw a significant decline in income after the worst weather in 250 years this winter.
“It was touch and go this winter. We know from past experience that it can take some time for trade to bounce back after flooding, or other natural disasters. Thankfully, our return to full trading has surpassed our hopes.”