TOURISM and leisure in Hartlepool have been hailed as vital by business chiefs who included the industries for the first time in an awards night.
The tourism and leisure category – sponsored by Hartlepool United Football Club – became the latest section to be added to the town's Business Awards.
Awards organisers have praised the fantastic support for the sector and the backing of the football club. They say they are also looking forward to next year's event with optimism.
The category was won by Cream Restaurants Ltd which consists of Krimo's, Portofino and Casa del Mar.
Also shortlisted were The York House and Tavistock Leisure.
Awards co-ordinator John Megson said: "It was important that we included tourism and leisure because it contributes significant amounts of money to the local economy and to the regional economy.
"It was well supported both by the sponsorship through the football club and by the companies and organisations which entered."
Mr Megson added: "The success of this year augurs well for the 2010 awards which is Tall Ships' year. We look forward to increased entries in the various categories."
This year's awards had nine categories up for grabs as well as the overall title of Business of the Year.
Prizes worth 11,000 were also on offer in a mix of cash and business-related awards.