IT’S been a year since Gill Haigh took the helm at Cumbria Tourism and she says the past 12 months have been an honour.

Gill said: “The Lake District and wider Cumbria is increasingly recognised as a world class visitor destination with international and UK wide appeal. Cumbria Tourism’s own research estimated this was worth £2.9bn and supported about 65,000 jobs in total in 2017.

“Cumbria’s visitor economy’s success is integral to the county’s success. With two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as three areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, growth in international visitors and the soon-to-open airport at Carlisle, alongside multi million pound private sector investments, we have a game changing opportunity to significantly raise the profile of Cumbria as a world class destination.

“In turn, that would increase the value of tourism to the local economy all year round. A one per cent growth would add an extra £20m to the economy.

“Cumbria Tourism’s particular focus is on growing the number of staying visitors, increasing the length of stays, growing the spend per visitor and encouraging visitors to less well known areas of the county. Importantly we want to see the value of tourism grow in what we call the shoulder months, outside the main holiday periods.”

The organisation has boosted its marketing of the county both across the UK and overseas, and working with other destinations on projects targeting the USA, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the Gulf States. It was recently awarded £250,000 from VisitEngland to deliver a Northern World Heritage Collection project, to raise awareness of its Northern World heritage sites to the American and Irish markets.

Gill added: “At the same time, there are key sector challenges to address. We need to be at the top of our game in order to maximise these opportunities.

“External market factors include the impact of Brexit, exchange rates, securing workers with the right skills, increased costs, weather and consumer confidence, increasing competition from online travel agents, greater visitor choice and competition from other destinations.

“Visitors expect a high level of quality from individual tourism businesses but we must ensure an overall quality experience, from transport and public amenities, to digital connectivity and information provision.

“The bottom line is, the private and public sector must work hard together to maximise potential.

“We’re at the start of a new phase of growth and success - firmly establishing our world-class county as the place to visit for both national and international visitors.”