OVERSEAS visits to the North East have dropped amid fears the region’s £3.5bn tourism economy is suffering from a cut in global marketing.
Latest Government figures released today showed the North East welcomed 427,000 visitors over the last year, down nearly 60,000.
Across the region more than 43,000 people are thought to be employed in the tourist sector, with another 10,000 in the supply chain dependant upon healthy visitor numbers.
In Newcastle visitor numbers were also down, with figures from Visit Britain suggesting a 20,000 drop.
Since 2010 the region has had to cope with cuts to the funding behind the successful Passionate People, Passionate Places marketing campaign. Added to this, tourism chiefs say, is a washout summer last year and the ongoing economic difficulties facing the UK.
Last night Durham MP Helen Goodman, who is on Labour’s shadow culture team, said decisions by the coalition Government to scrap the regional development agency’s campaign were contributing to a difficult time for the industry. The 2010 decision stopped the spending in 2011, meaning 2012’s figures are the first to reflect the reduced funding.
Ms Goodman told The Journal: “It is no coincidence that the significant drop in tourist numbers occurred the year after that funding from One North East ended.
“This is yet more evidence that the Conservative-led government was wrong to abolish One North East and replace it with a successor body that splits our region in two.”
Jeff Sutheran, who chairs the North Northumberland Tourism Association, said that while there continues to be difficulties for many firms, the overall picture was more positive.
Mr Sutheran, who with his wife runs the award winning St Cuthbert’s House bed and breakfast at Seahouses, Northumberland, said a recent Regional Growth Fund handout meant money was returning to the sector.
“There is no doubting some have had it very hard,“ he said. “We are doing very well but there are a lot, especially in the middle income market, who have really felt this.
“It’s down to a lot of things, the weather played its part, and the Olympics saw a lot of visitors stay in London, and the ongoing problems from the recession also has had a big impact.
“But we have now, eventually, secured millions of pounds for the region to sell itself, so I think the figures for this year will be much improved.”
Louise Stewart, the strategy director at Visit England, agreed that while massive cuts might have caused concern for destination marketing organisations, there was now targeted funding for tourist campaigns.
She said that the manner in which these figures were collected meant they was often a large margin of error, and that she was confident the vital tourism sector was being offered sufficient support.
And she pointed to the recent Lord Adonis review of the North East economy, which cited the importance of the industry to the region.
Lord Adonis recommended the region’s council leaders come together to have a bigger say over marketing strategies, having a more united say than the current smaller organisations offer.
London accounted for more than half the visits overseas tourists made to the UK last year, according to latest figures.
Yorkshire and Scotland saw a slight drop in figures, though Leeds saw its fall in visitors fall by less than Newcastle’s following Yorkshire’s decision to keep tourism spending going in 2011.
Already this year venues in Tyne and Wear have revealed a sharp drop in visitor numbers, though it is thought the overall numbers are up when the likes of the Baltic are taken into account.
Sarah Stewart, chief executive of marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said Tyneside continues to welcome large numbers of foreign visitors. Her marketing group last year nought up the rights to the Passionate Places regionwide marketing campaign, but has yet to make use of the popular brand.
Ms Stewart said: “Looking ahead, national tourism body VisitEngland has submitted a bid to the Regional Growth Fund to support its international work and Newcastle Gateshead would benefit from this, if successful.”