Future of tourism takes centre stage

TOURISM businesses continue to discuss the future plans of the county’s Northumberland Tourism as it prepares for drastic cuts to its funding.

Consultation with tourism businesses has been under way since a first meeting in November and while issues of cost and governance have led to heated debate, there is support for Northumberland Tourism.

Jeff Sutheran, chairman of North Northumberland Tourism Association, asserted that it was a very, very big issue – the only thing they spoke about at their AGM last Thursday.

He said: “The strategic marketing of Northumberland is absolutely vital for small tourism businesses and what we are thinking presently is that Northumberland Tourism is the organisation with the track record and infrastructure to provide that strategic marketing.”

He also highlighted that this issue had served to bring different tourism associations together.

“We are coming together to talk about what changes we would like to see made to wholeheartedly recommend this to our members,” he said.

Ian Mills, chairman of Rothbury and Coquetdale Tourism Association, said he could maybe support Northumberland Tourism’s plans but with two provisos.

“When they had funding as a quango, they hired a lot of staff and we are not prepared to put money in to keep staff. The tourism industry is struggling and we are having to tighten our belts. We won’t pay if they aren’t going to do the same.

“And they seem to be asking us to pay and then their board, which is packed with huge companies with no representation from small hotels or B and Bs, will decide how it’s spent.”

Mr Sutheran, who owns St Cuthbert’s House bed and breakfast in Seahouses, agrees that the issue of governance is key.

“The question is if the small businesses are contributing to the pot for Northumberland Tourism what kind of say do they have in the setting of priorities for Northumberland Tourism or accountability of the service.”

Jude Leith, marketing manager at Northumberland Tourism, said: “Since we learned of the cuts in government funding for tourism in September, we have been working closely with businesses in the county to ensure that we can continue to promote Northumberland in the future.

“We are aware that other areas of the UK such as Yorkshire and Scotland are able to continue with significant investment into tourism promotion and we have to find some way of competing with this.

“We continue to lobby Government. Giles Ingram, chief executive of Northumberland Tourism, along with MPs Guy Opperman and Alan Beith, met national tourism bodies yesterday to ensure that Northumberland does not get left out of national tourism plans.”

Businesses and organisations can join the debate on the forum at http://discuss.ntads.co.uk which already has over 80 posts.