THE tourism minister has dismissed calls for a regional body to speak up for the region’s industry.
Hugh Robertson spent two days meeting tourism groups from across the North East to discuss how they can work together to promote the region as Government spending cuts continue.
His visit comes just a week after the North East Chamber of Commerce called for the creation of a regional body promoting tourism amid fears some firms are losing out.
But speaking after a visit to St James’ Park, Mr Roberston said such a body was not needed, as many groups already worked together. He added that the days in which the now abolished regional development agency took an overall lead “were gone and not coming back”.
Those views stand in stark contrast to those of Jeff Sutheran, chairman of the North Northumberland Tourism Association, who this summer revealed fears the South will dominate what little Government funding is available, saying a recent ad campaign failed to promote “anywhere north of Bridlington”.
Mr Roberston said: “There’s a wonderful cultural offer around here, a great heritage offer, and the whole thing knits together very convincingly. If only we could get the rest of the country to work as well as they do here.”
He pointed to tourism bids succeeding in the regional growth fund for state aid, and said: “Northumberland should not worry too much. If you look at Hadrian’s Wall there have been a lot of events around this, some very powerful images, and we all remember the (Olympic) torch coming to the region. There is a lot to be optimistic about here.”
Last night the Chamber’s head of member relations, Jonathan Walker, said he was glad the minister had seen for himself how the region is coping.
He added: “The ongoing work of our existing tourism organisations in challenging economic times must be applauded and it’s good to hear the minister recognise that on his visit.
“In order to ensure thorough representation for the North East at national and international level, our members in the tourism industry feel it is vital that all organisations involved in supporting the sector work to represent the region as a whole.”
But he added that national bodies had to start operating “in ways which are truly representative and receptive to the needs of different regions”.
Tourism organisations from across the region including Newcastle International Airport, Beamish Museum, Alnwick Garden, Northumberland Tourism, Visit County Durham, Northumberland Tourism and the North East Hotels Association met with Mr Robertson at a private dinner on Monday night.
Sarah Stewart, chief executive of Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, said: “It is essential to the future growth of our visitor economy that we engage with those at a national level, in particular those influencing and delivering national tourism policy.”
If only we could get the rest of the country to work as well as they do here