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Friday, 25 April 2014

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Carlisle Airport vital if Cumbria to cash in on overseas tourists

Carlisle needs to be ready with its new airport to capitalise on a predicted increase in overseas tourists holidaying in the UK, the county’s tourism chief has said.

Ian Stephens photo
Ian Stephens

New forecasts suggest more overseas visitors will be packing their cases for UK breaks and will grow five per cent over the next five years.

But the news was tempered by statistics which predict a massive 75 per cent would fly directly into London airports – so Carlisle needs a revamped operation ready to allow internal transfers between the capital and Cumbria.

Ian Stephens was giving his annual address to the tourism industry in a presentation entitled: “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Cumbria’s growth potential.”

Earlier in the day, he said he had met with airport representatives and that return flights between Carlisle and Dublin have been mooted which also spelt “exciting prospects” for tourism.

“All this is particularly good news for Cumbria – particularly if and when Carlisle airport opens,” said Mr Stephens, alluding to the lengthy planning and political battle Stobart Air has faced which has stopped its multi-million pound development plans from taking flight.

He spoke as it emerged that the redevelopment of Carlisle Airport may get the go ahead next Friday

It is, however, more likely that city councillors will delay making a decision to allow consultation on new figures supplied by Stobart Group.

Stobart wants to build a 394,000sq ft freight distribution centre at the Crosby-on-Eden airfield and to resurface the runway for scheduled passenger flights and airfreight.

Its planning application was to have been heard last July but was delayed at Stobart’s request.

The firm’s latest submission appears to have won over planning officers who are on the cusp of recommending that councillors approve the scheme.

The sticking point is new figures from the company, predicting the airport will handle 100,000 passengers a year by 2025 – half as many as it said previously.

The council is worried that lower passenger numbers will reduce the benefits to the local economy. If Stobart can show that the economic benefits are unchanged, the scheme may yet be approved next Friday.

But if it cannot show this, or if it accepts that the benefits will be lessened, the development control committee will defer the item to allow fresh consultation on the basis of the new figures. Meanwhile, citing new forecasts from national tourism authorities Visit England and Visit Britain, Mr Stephens told delegates at his organisation’s meeting that tomorrow’s overseas tourists to the UK are likely to come from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

There is likely to be a recovery across the high-spending American market of visitors too, which often head to north Cumbria, Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall for its history and heritage.

He promised Cumbria Tourism would lobby agencies like Visit England and Visit Britain to spend more money on the advertising battlefields to help signpost overseas tourists north. Mr Stephens told the 120-strong audience: “We have to make sure marketing is not all focussed on the south and London.

“We will be lobbying London hard for that.”

One member of the audience suggested more attention should be given to UK-based tourists who make up 92 per cent of all visitors to Cumbria.

Mr Stephens replied, however: “The staycation market is important. What I’m saying is that these areas (international visitors) offer a lot of growth potential and we want a share of it.”

A new discount card offering Cumbrian residents deals and money-saving days out is proving slow to take off.

The My Cumbria Card was unveiled last month by Cumbria Tourism offering residents who live in the county discounts on their days out.

It was devised to create a Cumbria version of the successful online discount websites like GroupOn and My Voucher Codes.

However, a progress report at the annual general meeting showed that just 246 people have signed up and less than 150 businesses are onboard.

Cumbria Tourism’s website is close to breaking through the five million visitors a year mark.

The www.golakes.co.uk site has won awards and is the official shop window for tourism businesses wanting to capture tourist bookings online. Cumbria Tourism’s annual meeting was told that Cumbria Tourism had also achieved 42,000 fans on Facebook, more than 7,200 followers on Twitter and hosted 155 press visits which had generated over £1m in equivalent advertising for the county and its tourism businesses.

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