TOURISM businesses across South Lakeland are taking a major hit as the ‘wettest year on record’ threatens to cripple trade well into the New Year.

Accommodation providers and owners of eateries and attractions say there has been a dramatic fall in the number of day trippers and holidaymakers because of the ‘devastating and unprecedented’ weather.

And they expect to be counting the cost of the deluge well into the New Year, with bookings for Easter already showing signs of drying up.

Now they face having to hike up prices in a bid to claw back earnings.

Met Office figures reveal that 2012 was Cumbria’s 10th wettest year since records began in 1910 with rainfall topping 1,890mm in Westmorland - 200mm up on the previous year.

Tony Blaney, chair of the Lakes Hospitality Association and owner of the Fairfield Garden Guest House, Bowness, said: “Bookings over New Year have been down by about 50 per cent and those we did get were last minute.

“Projected bookings for the next three months are down by about a third.

“People don’t want to book a holiday when it’s raining outside.

“The problem is that for the price of a holiday in an expensive area like this, you could get a week in Spain.”

Caroline Langham, owner of the Cote How Organic Guest House and Tearoom at Rydal, revealed that the number of people visiting her tearoom was down by about half.

“My guest house has had its worst year on record and the next few months are looking quiet too,” she said.

“If you haven’t filled up your Easter slots by Christmas then you should be worrying - and I haven’t.”

Sarah White from Easedale Lodge, Ambleside, said: “The weather has been putting people off. We’ve not had as many people here as this time last year.”

She thought business had fallen by about 30 per cent.

Sharyn Rush, owner of the Gables Guest House and the Sheila’s Cottage restaurant in Ambleside, said the weather, recession and the Olympics had all impacted on her business.

“We’re considerably down and August was our worst loss when it should have been our best month.”

As a result she has employed fewer people this year. Her suppliers have also suffered.

“The knock-on effect to suppliers is also bad,” she said. “It’s the little people who suffer.”

David Greenwell, owner of Workington-based Shortridge Laundry, which supplies around 600 Lake District B&Bs, said: “My gut feeling is that trade is down by about 10 per cent overall.”

Chief executive of Cumbria Tourism, Ian Stephens, admitted flooding across Cumbria last month might have put visitors off coming over Christmas and New Year.

“Our thoughts are with all those who are suffering but we are doing all we can to keep people coming,” he said.

“We are a resilient and robust county and I am sure that once again Cumbrians will be stepping up to the mark and showing the rest of the world that we can bounce back.”