Time to get together for tourism

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HARTLEPOOL can become a tourist hotspot for years to come – but only if every town business and organisation pulls together.

The key message emerged from a meeting of prominent players in the tourism industry.

They met at Wynyard Hall yesterday to discuss major cuts affecting the Tees Valley and heard how millions of pounds and dozens of jobs were being lost in the sector.

Yet, bosses insisted the future for Hartlepool and Tees Valley’s biggest attractions could still be rosy.

It’s going to take teamwork and it won’t be easy, said David Kelly, the chairman of the Tees Valley Area Tourism Partnership who led the call to action.

He said Hartlepool’s hosting of The Tall Ships Races may prove to be the exception rather than the rule in the future with fewer big events coming to the area.

But the way forward could include promoting regular local events and highlighting the attractions we have on our doorstep all year round.

He also told delegates, ranging from hoteliers to restaurant bosses and festival organisers to council bigwigs: “You are going to have to punch above your weight in the future.

“You are going to have to improve your ringcraft. I encourage you all to work together.”

He said firms which had considered themselves rivals in the past were now going to have to come up with ways of clinching contracts by working together – because future success lay in private sector and not public sector funding.

The conference was called in the wake of the decision to axe visitTeesvalley, the tourism arm of Tees Valley Unlimited (TVU). It is facing massive cuts with its budget trimmed from £9m to £2m and its staffing levels to be reduced from 85 people to 32.

TVU’s newly appointed managing director Stephen Catchpole said: “We are in difficult times, and difficult times put a strain on relationships.

“But the fact that we have a robust history of working together gives us a chance of riding this out.”

He praised the Tees Valley for having global leaders in industry such as Huntsman, Johnson Matthey and Sembcorp, saying it was a good example for the way ahead. He added: “We have to champion all sectors of the economy because we need them to grow.”

Tricia Woods, from the Access Solutions For Tourism organisation, encouraged more people to become tourist ambassadors for the Tees Valley.

She said an ideal way was by signing up for the My Tees Valley project which involves people going on a day-long awareness course to find out what Tees Valley has to offer to visitors and residents.

It highlights attractions such as Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience and Saltholme as well as more local sights such as public art.

Mark Rowell, the regeneration projects manager for Stockton Borough Council, said some tourism projects were set to close or be reduced in the next year such as the Tees Valley tourism database called Destiny and the volunteer Tees Valley campaign.

But he said the five councils across the Tees Valley including Hartlepool would be working together to promote their best assets.

Mr Kelly added: “The budgets from the public sector are not there as they used to be.

“But we have vibrant organisations and businesses in this part of the world and we have a lot to be proud of.”

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