SOUTH Devon's tourism industry has been hard hit in the wake of the Dawlish rail line disaster, MPs have been told.
Representatives of South Devon councils lobbied MPs on the need to secure the future of the Dawlish line, explore alternatives, and outlined the economic impact of the storm damage.
Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver told MPs there had been a profound drop in bookings, particularly for Easter.
This is despite the fact First Great Western has this week started selling tickets for Maundy Thursday.
He told MPs: "This is certainly having a very profound adverse effect on our tourism industry. The signs are there is a 75 per cent negative effect on bookings for the season and particularly for Easter. We want to see restoration of the Dawlish line."
Laurence Murrell, managing director of TLH Leisure resort, one of the Bay's biggest hotel operators, told the Herald Express bookings in January had been quite good, but advanced bookings dropped off when the February storms began and had not yet recovered.
He said: "It affected half term a little bit. I am optimistic it can still be turned round. I don't think it means we are going to have a terrible Easter or summer. It highlights the folly of reducing the funding to the ERTC."
Deputy mayor Dave Thomas, who was also at the transport select committee meeting and a briefing for MPs, said the concern is people believe the damage suffered at Dawlish and the Somerset Levels was affecting the whole of the west country.
"People think the south west is closed, full stop, with severely damaged infrastructure," he said. "I understand there is a government marketing initiative due to be announced and some funding for us to get the message across that we are open for business."
At the meeting it was revealed there are five options for alternative rail routes being considered by Network Rail. They are also looking at future protection for the Dawlish line.
Mr Thomas said the priority was for the Dawlish line to be made permanently resilient, with a new breakwater if necessary.
"We need some kind of breakwater which is further out from the wall to provide protection for the next 50 to 60 years. Kingskerswell bypass took 50 years to build, an alternative rail route could be 15 to 20 years away."
Torbay Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders, who serves on the transport select committee, made a plea for 'unity' amid fears lobbying for alternative routes and a sub-three hour London train services to Plymouth will put services to South Devon at risk.
"You're not going to retain both lines," he said. "At least in what remains for my lifetime it is Dawlish — what we therefore have to do is improve the line east of Exeter."
Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris, who was not at the meeting, said: "The Dawlish line is not just a marvel from the age of Brunel that the people of Teignbridge value, it is a vital artery for the economy of the South West and my constituency.
"Its future is sacrosanct to me, and while I am happy to see additional routes for the south west, they must be precisely that, and not alternatives."