North East tourism attractions are missing out on “desperately-needed” European funding that could create jobs and growth, industry leaders have warned the Government.
The Northern Tourism Alliance fears the European Commission will continue to overlook projects and attractions will fail to capitalise on opportunities as a result.
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid must now show “strong direction”, the alliance says, so that success stories like County Durham’s Beamish Museum - which recorded a 20% hike in visitor numbers in 2014 - is rewarded with the cash to help it grow in 2015.
The alliance, which brings together local authorities, tourism agencies and businesses, sounded the alarm in its response to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into tourism across the UK.
Sarah Stewart, chief executive at the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, said: “The visitor economy plays an important role in the North East’s ongoing economic growth; that its value and positive impact locally is recognised by the Government is critical.
“The tourism inquiry highlighted some important issues in relation to European funding we know that there is scope for funds to be allocated where the results will enhance the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises.
“What we need now, is greater clarification on the application process and criteria to ensure the industry can readily access this funding.”
Richard Evans, museum director at Beamish Museum, said the attraction could create around 100 jobs with the help of European funding.
He said: “We have to make the strongest case possible for the value of tourism and culture in the North East. We need as many people to get behind that case as possible.
“One of the things European funding would do is to help with the ongoing growth of the tourism sector, which is a real growth driver for jobs and skills and training.”
The alliance’s letter to the committee reads: “North East tourism and culture organisations have struggled to be recognised as eligible for EU support despite robust evidence of job creation and growth.
“Strong direction from central government that opens up European funding to visitor economy businesses is desperately needed before the programme is locked down until 2020.”
The alliance also says the Government must have a “clear strategy” on skills and training and called for the Government to fund initiatives which allow attractions to contribute to syllabi.
Sarah Stewart said: “It’s also important that government recognises the importance of ongoing professional development within the industry.
“Alongside the formal training offered by colleges and universities, the Government needs to recognise that gaps remain and, as such, a clear strategy that addresses the needs of tourism businesses of all sizes is required.”
Visa restrictions also hinder tourism attractions and the alliance cited the huge contribution Chinese students make to tourism here.
The alliance’s letter said: “We know first-hand that the cost and timing of acquiring visas is restricting visits. To give the inquiry an idea of the potential economic impact: Chinese students studying in the North East at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities (and living in Newcastle and Durham) spend an average of £19m on entertainment, leisure and eating out per year.
“Typically each student has 3.3 visitors per year and the impact of these visitors generates an additional £8m to the North East economy.”
The Select Committee will now look at the inquiry’s findings to form a report that will inform future policy and funding.