Northumberland’s momentous victory in the British Travel Awards, beating Cornwall for the first time in five years, has been described as a game-changer.
In a grand battle of north versus south, the northernmost county of England pipped the southernmost after finishing runner-up to it in the last four contests.
The announcement that Northumberland had picked up the coveted title of Best UK Holiday County/Destination of the Year after a public vote was made at an awards ceremony in London last Wednesday night.
It was greeted with huge excitement by a small contingent from this corner of the country.
Coun Cath Homer, Northumberland County Council (NCC) cabinet member for culture, arts, leisure and tourism, tweeted: ‘We only went and did it! NORTHUMBERLAND winners of Best UK Holiday County @ the British Travel Awards 2018!’
Competition was fierce this year with Northumberland up against nine other regions, including Cornwall, the Peak District, Scottish Highlands, Cumbria and the Lake District.
After coming so close to winning in recent years, Northumberland Tourism and NCC ran a joint campaign via social media encouraging people to vote for what has been dubbed The Secret Kingdom.
So how will this impressive achievement really affect the future of the county?
After a few days of reflection, Peter Jackson, NCC leader, called the gold award ‘a real game-changer’.
“It’s the largest and most influential public vote in the travel industry, and we need to take full advantage of the opportunities this accolade presents,” he said.
“Northumberland is unique, and we’re delighted it’s been recognised for its distinctive offer – our natural, environmental, heritage and cultural assets – and we’re determined to capitalise on these credentials to be THE destination of choice from visitors from home and abroad.
“And there’s more we can and should do.
“Securing the North of Tyne Devolution Deal provides a unique platform to access investment to help meet our ambitions around pride of place, to instil local pride in our communities and enhance our flourishing tourism industry to encourage others to explore and experience our diverse county.
“Similarly, the Borderlands Growth Deal also offers opportunities to work with our cross-border authorities to maximise and boost our tourism economy, grow our businesses and create employment opportunities that will benefit our communities.”
Coun Homer added: “Tourism is a major economic driver in Northumberland, employing thousands of people, with continued growth, and welcomed more than 10million visitors to the county last year.
“We want to build on this growth and develop the whole visitor experience, and use our arts, heritage and cultural assets, as well as food and drink, to showcase a county that has a strong sense of identity alongside a stunning landscapes and coastline.
“We’re actively developing plans to promote Northumberland to celebrate everything that’s great about the place we call home, with a fundamental aim of shining a light on Northumberland as a place to visit, to raise a family, to build a career, or to establish and grow a business.
“Securing this award really does take us to the next level, and we’re grasping the opportunity with both hands. We can’t wait to share our exciting plans for 2019 and beyond.”
Northumberland Tourism is hoping to ‘squeeze every benefit’ out of the county’s gold accolade.
Jude Leitch, director of Northumberland Tourism, said: “We knew we were close but didn’t know we had finally won until the awards night.
“If we could land this, we knew it would act as a springboard for all the future activity and plans. So we were absolutely delighted when it was announced.
“Tourism is vitally important to Northumberland, both in terms of employment and economic growth. Winning Gold is great recognition of the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the industry across the county.
“We are confident it will have an effect – there has already been a huge response on our social media platforms, from all over the world.”
The organisation particularly hopes the new status will encourage visitors to come outside of the main tourism season.
“There is so much more to Northumberland than just the famous coast and castles – there’s walking , cycling, wildlife, the dark skies, the list is endless,” said Jude. “We want to squeeze every benefit from the award, but still continue to be sensible about making sure the planning is done and the infrastructure is there, rather than just chase the economic benefits.”
Tourism is a key economic driver for Northumberland making up 11.8% of the county’s economy and contributing £665million. In 2017, the county welcomed more than 10million visitors an increase of 6% on 2016.