Bosses stay positive over tourism future

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TOURISM chiefs remain positive about the future of the sector in Northumberland despite a funding reduction.

But they have issued a rallying call for those in charge of visitor attractions and businesses dependent on them to pull together for the county cause.

The current situation for Northumberland Tourism was discussed at a meeting of Northumberland County Council’s Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

It is having to deal with the loss of funding and support services from regional development agency One North East, which will close at the end of March 2012.

The organisation is currently reviewing its services with the aim of providing the best possible value for money.

Chairman Peter Kemp said: “One North East’s policy was to advertise the region as a whole when it came to tourism, so at least with this money gone we have the opportunity to better promote Northumberland specifically.

“We need everyone involved with this sector in our county to make a contribution, for example saying at every opportunity what a wonderful place Northumberland is to visit.

“We will continue to promote the area to people across the UK and abroad as best we can, although the obvious problem we have now is where are we going to get the funding from?”

Chief Executive Giles Ingram added: “I’m convinced we can do a better job at a lower cost in the future.

“One North East has done an excellent job for us, but the world has moved on and there are a lot of contacts out there to work with.

“The challenge now is to make successful bids for funding at a national level because tourism boards across the UK are facing the same issues as us, so they will be keenly contested.”

To help maintain a regional tourism voice, a Northern Tourism Alliance is being set up to include representatives from visitor destinations and businesses.

As part of the review process, changes will be made to the Visit Northumberland website.

One issue that tourism providers said needs to be sorted is stopping information about facilities outside the county being displayed in the Ads by Google section on the right hand side of the webpage after typing something in the search box.

And Deb Humble of Country Concierge and The Waiting Room in West Northumberland said: “There is a need for a county website, but it needs to be simplified so it is easier for people to use and I think it should be a portal to direct visitors to our own websites.”

Mr Ingram said: “Online marketing is an increasingly critical part of what we provide so the website is a priority issue over the next few months.

“We will come up with a clear plan once we have collected some feedback from businesses and website users. It’s vital that what we come up with is effective in turning that initial spark of interest into a booking.”

Lynemouth county councillor Milburn Douglas said a major bone of contention with tourists was a lack of signage.

Coun Gordon Castle said he thinks the county council can do more but the issue is not straightforward.

“I’m on the north area planning committee and we do our best to take into account tourism businesses when it comes to signage, but there are competing policies that we have to consider and sometimes they are hard to ignore.”

Coun Peter Jackson urged those involved with tourism to give their views about signage and other planning related issues that affect them during the consultation period for the Northumberland Local Development Framework.

When complete, this will produce one set of planning policy documents for the county.