BUSINESSES are continuing to recover from the devastating effects of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the latest statistics have revealed.

Occupancy figures for hotels and guest houses from March to May together with August and September were the best recorded in Richmondshire for five years.

The figures, in a report to the district's business forum, also showed tourist information centres in Richmond, Leyburn and Hawes all dealt with more inquiries than the previous year.

Car parks across the district experienced an 11 per cent increase in visitors.

The report, by Pam Whittaker, Richmondshire District Council's tourism officer, said: "Overall, it would appear 2003 has been an excellent season with all aspects increasing, with the exception of the bed nights booked via the information centres.

"However, the occupancy statistics and anecdotal evidence from accommodation providers suggests this has been an exceptional year and most businesses are reporting increased business."

The forum was told that occupancy figures for June may have compared badly with the previous year, because of the celebrations to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

Forum member Richard Good, who runs a guest house in Arkengarthdale, warned that the long, hot summer had played a part in this year's figures and continued improvement could not be taken for granted.

"It has been a late season this year and there were still plenty of visitors in the area as late as October,'' he said.

Other trends evident in the figures included a tendency for visitors arriving by car to remain in the area longer.

The number of short-stay tickets sold in the car parks went down slightly between April and September this year, while tickets purchased for four to five-hour stays increased.

No clear pattern emerged with bookings taken by the district's information centres - some taking more and some less.

However, the report to the forum indicated there was no reason for concern as the centres handled less then ten per cent of the total number of reservations made.

The majority of visitors made their arrangements by telephone or e-mail