TOURISM chiefs are celebrating after winning a host of accolades at a top awards ceremony.
Hartlepool's Maritime Experience is the toast of the town after scooping two top awards in the North East England Tourism Awards 2009.
The Maritime Experience beat tough competition, including Bamburgh Castle and Belsay Hall to be named Large Visitor Attraction of the Year for the third time.
The popular visitor venue's quay assistant Wendy Clarke received a bronze award in the Outstanding Customer Service Award section of the awards, which were presented at the Hilton Hotel, in Gateshead.
Peterlee Tourist Information Centre won the Tourist Information Centre of the Year section and Hartlepool restaurateur Krimo Bouabda, who owns a string of restaurants at Hartlepool Marina, picked up a bronze award in the Taste of North-East England category.
Wendy, who joined Hartlepool's Maritime Experience in 1994, dons period costume to meet and greet the hundreds of visitors which the attraction welcomes every day.
Centred around an authentic recreation of an 18th century seaport, Hartlepool's Maritime Experience tells the story of life at sea at the time of Nelson, complete with action-packed re-enactments, musketry and cannon displays and audio-visual exhibits such as Fighting Ships and Press-ganged.
It is also home to the historic warship HMS Trincomalee, the Museum of Hartlepool and the paddle steamer Wingfield Castle.
Councillor Victor Tumilty, the council's cabinet member for culture, leisure and tourism, said: "We are delighted to receive these major accolades.
"Hartlepool's Maritime Experience is a fantastic attraction and this is another feather in our cap in the run up to The Tall Ships Races next year.
"Congratulations to everyone involved with Hartlepool's Maritime Experience on these much-deserved awards."
Debra Coates, Peterlee Tourist Information Centre's manager, said: "We are absolutely delighted. It is recognition of what we do and how much information we provide. It is fantastic to have improved on our bronze award in 2007."
Councillor Bill Jeffrey, leader of Peterlee Town Council, added: "We were delighted when we saw the bronze award two years ago, but this award hopefully indicates that our service has improved even further on the last two years."
Mr Bouabda said: "I was so proud just to be shortlisted. To represent Hartlepool at these awards was a very big honour."
Geoff Hodgson, chairman of the North East Tourism Advisory Board, who presented the awards, said: "This year's winners showcase the quality and diversity of tourism businesses we have in the region and are a great example of excellence."
Hartlepool's Maritime Experience will now go on to represent North East England in the national Enjoy England Awards for Excellence next year along with Peterlee Tourist Information Centre.