Tourism is thriving in the North East, supporting thousands of jobs and pulling in millions of visitors, campaigners said yesterday.
As English Tourism Week got under way yesterday, Newcastle Labour MP Catherine McKinnell turned customer service apprentice for the day at Newcastle Airport, meeting tourists and students starting out their careers in the sector.
The Newcastle Gateshead Initiative (NGI) – which markets the area as a visitor destination in the UK and overseas – recruited the Newcastle North MP, who said she enjoyed learning the ropes with students from Newcastle College.
It comes as the region has seen overnight visitors up by 10% over the last decade to hit 6.8m.
She said: “I’m delighted to be here at Newcastle International Airport –the largest employer in my constituency and a critical gateway for the region’s tourism industry – to help celebrate English Tourism Week.
“Tourism is a growth industry in the region and has continued to build steadily over the past decade, despite the challenging economic conditions of the past few years.
“As a result, tourism offers an ever-increasing range of career opportunities and currently employs more than 18,000 people in Newcastle and Gateshead alone.
“It’s great to meet some of the industry’s employees of the future and learn more about their studies and the practical experience they are gaining here at the airport.”
Sarah Stewart, NGI’s chief executive, said: “With over 17m visitors annually, tourism expenditure is now worth £1.3bn to Newcastle and Gateshead.
“With the help of partners and stakeholders, such as Catherine, we are keen to shine a spotlight on the sector and highlight why tourism really matters to the people, place and economy of Newcastle and Gateshead.
“The benefits of a vibrant visitor economy are far-reaching, providing employment opportunities, sustaining businesses, attracting new investment and development and enhancing quality of life and choice for visitors and residents alike.”
Mrs McKinnell was trained by student airport ambassadors Laura Roberts and Victoria Proud.
The two work with Newcastle International Airport to provide a meet-and-greet customer service welcome.
The students are in the first year of a Level 3 Diploma in Aviation Operations.
Susan Davis, operations manager in the Lifestyle Academy at Newcastle College, said: “The experience our students gain at the airport is invaluable to their development and future employability and we are delighted to be able to have the opportunity to show Catherine the fantastic job that our students do.”
Dave Laws, chief executive of Newcastle International Airport, said: “People often think about the airport as a departure point but clearly we also provide a critical gateway for domestic and international visitors – coming here for business and pleasure.
“We recognise that connectivity is key to the attractiveness of a destination. As we look to grow our range of routes, we will continue to work with partners, such as NewcastleGateshead Initiative, to maximise the benefits for the region and the burgeoning tourism industry on our doorstep.”
Janet Collins, general manager terminal operations at Newcastle International Airport, said: “Here at Newcastle International Airport we aim to go above and beyond for all our customers. The ambassador programme is one key element in our goal to be the UK’s most welcoming airport.
“Our recruitment, training and focus for all our staff is designed around the highest levels of customer service, and we try to be welcoming, approachable and proactive to all passengers travelling through the airport.
“This contributed to Newcastle Airport being named the best large UK Airport by readers of Which? in 2013.”