Brixham gears up for tourists after outbreak panic and cancellations

Mermaid Bar Brixham
Mermaid Bar Brixham -Credit:The Greenway Group Ltd

Brixham's hospitality industry has issued a rallying cry that it is "open for business" after a week of crisis caused by the sudden cryptosporidium outbreak. One of Devon's most historic and vibrant seaside towns was left reeling by the water contamination outbreak which hit the national headlines.

There were several days of panic and crisis management as holidaymakers called to cancel bookings and move dates, fearful of falling victim to the diarrhoea-inducing parasite. It was the worst possible start to the multi-million pound holiday season.

But drinking water in the main part of town was declared safe over the weekend and boil water notices for around 14,500 properties were lifted. Though some restrictions have still to be removed for around 2,500 homes on the outskirts the mood has now lifted.

From hotels to camp sites, pubs to restaurants, hotels to B&Bs the hospitality industry is sending out the message that Brixham is open for business. One strategy is to attract people within a two-hour drive looking for a day out.

Lucy Chamings, general manager at the Berry Head Hotel, said the hard work of regaining public trust begins now.

"We need to make sure people know that Brixham is open for business. Like any normal time of the year we are here to look after people. The main town area of Brixham and ourselves are not in the area affected now.

"Of course, people are enquiring and we are letting them know what we are doing. We have been using bottled water at the hotel and brought in ice in order to build confidence while we are still coming out of the situation. But we are now able to drink the tap water again.

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Brixham Harbour
Brixham Harbour -Credit:The Greenway Group Ltd

"It wasn't ideal timing and right now is a critical time right at the beginning of the holiday season when we should be starting to get busy. We have people coming from all over the country and abroad and we need to get the message out.

"The damage is not just the cancellations it is also the people looking to book at short notice breaks and we are not receiving the pick-up we normally expect. It's really important to reinstate confidence."

Carrianne Toms, guest experience manager at Harbour View overlooking the historic fishing harbour, said: "We followed all the guidance that South West Water gave us right the way way through this situation. We are really hopeful that people will decide to return to visit. It is such a beautiful time of the year. It was such a shame this occurred when it did but it has been resolved and the water company are keeping a very close eye on it.

Olive in Brixham
Olive in Brixham -Credit:The Greenway Group Ltd

"It did have an impact on booking, absolutely it did. Without a shadow of a doubt. We had lots of people wanting to move their bookings and cancel their bookings saying they had seen it on the BBC and that Brixham was not safe. All we can do is reassure people we were following all the guidance and all the other business were doing the same.

"We are supporting our colleagues in other hospitality business because at the end of the day we are all in this together, the hotels, the restaurants, we all work together so people can get the best holiday.

"Now we've got to do what Brixham does best, continue to support one another and we've got to be positive because that's what we do. We want people to come and enjoy themselves."

Olive in Brixham
Olive in Brixham -Credit:The Greenway Group Ltd

Properties in the Hillhead, upper parts of Brixham and Kingswear areas are still subject to a boil water notice and are still required to boil their tap water. Torbay Council's public health team says it is confident that the right steps are being taken to ensure residents and visitors are no longer at risk.

Dr Lincoln Sargeant, Torbay Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “For those areas still subject to the boil water notice, we continue to support local businesses to operate safely. It is important to emphasise that the outbreak has only affected a small area of Torbay.

“Finally to say, the Bay remains open for business. I know people have been concerned about visiting and whether it’s safe to be here. I would like to assure our residents and visitors that effective public health measures are in place to keep everyone safe. This outbreak has always been confined to a small part of the Bay, and that area is now smaller following the lifting of the boil water notice. We are supporting our local tourism and hospitality sector to operate safely and keep the Bay open for business.”

La Petite Maison Brixham
La Petite Maison Brixham -Credit:The Greenway Group Ltd

One holiday camp manager, who did not want to be named, said the resort was still under the notice said: "To be honest it hasn't affected us very much and we haven't had the mass cancellations. There were a few calls at the beginning with people worrying and it felt a little bit like the pandemic.

"We tried very hard to be pro-active with our communication so people heard the news and what was really happening from us first. I think that was the biggest thing we did right.

"We emailed to guests, sent texts and made sure they were informed and felt safe visiting us. We declined press interviews last week because that would have just caused the phone lines to go crazy with people worrying."

The Greenway Group Ltd is one of the biggest hospitality operators in town. It runs two bars (Liberty and The Mermaid), three restaurants (Olive, La Petite Maison & The Prince William), three shops (Inspirations, Another Chapter and The Ice Cream Shop at The Prince William) and two holiday lets on Brixham Harbour along with operating Greenway Ferry in Galmpton.

Mark Coysh, Company general manager, said: "Last weekend we were impacted dramatically by the SWW issues where we saw a drop in business of 80% over the weekend with a large volume of cancellations in hospitality and accommodation. This was mirrored across the whole of Brixham in nearly all industries - as far as I’m aware the only industry which wasn’t affected at all was the fishing industry.


"Thankfully the initial panic from the general public has subsided somewhat and we are now seeing bookings slowly creeping back - however the town at the moment is still very quiet for this time of year. We are optimistic and focusing on the positives from this situation - the national and international press coverage has put Brixham out to places it would have never reached before.

"Brixham has an amazing community and when times are tough the town always pulls through together to become stronger than ever and I’m certain this is no exception. As the town has lost a huge amount of accommodation bookings which are very difficult to get back quickly, we want to focus on promoting Brixham as a day out for visitors within a two-hour drive.

Golden Hind replica in Brixham Harbour
Golden Hind replica in Brixham Harbour -Credit:English Riviera BID Company

"Brixham has changed and improved dramatically over the past 10 years through investment with a huge array of food and drink offerings, along with activities in all genres to suit all ages and interests. Not to mention the character and natural beauty of the surroundings.

"The important message is that Brixham as a whole was never unsafe. A residential area in Higher Brixham was only affected by the water supply, not the town centre or Harbour area where the majority of Brixham businesses are based. Brixham is open for business as normal with everything open and operating every day as it should be at this time of year.

"Unfortunately the damage caused by the hysteria and misinformation online is worse than the issue itself. There’s now a huge challenge ahead of us to get business back to where it should be."