A significant step towards grappling the skills challenges facing Cumbria’s £3 billion tourism economy has been made.

The University of Cumbria will welcome its first cohort of students this month to undertake a new chartered manager apprenticeship in the visitor economy, which leads to a degree qualification.

The university is also set to launch a new pioneering post-graduate MBA course in tourism management in September 2020, and says it is already developing a series of short courses to address challenging areas of the county’s visitor economy, which currently supports 65,000 jobs.

The courses – which will be run from its Ambleside campus located at the centre of the Lake District World Heritage Site – aim to boost skills and address negative perceptions of careers in tourism and hospitality.

Dr Angela Anthonisz, the University of Cumbria’s (UofC) new principal lecturer in tourism management, said interest in the chartered manager apprenticeship was high and expected future courses to be popular.

“We could not be better placed to meet the vast potential UNESCO inscription brings and help shape an informed, skilled and vibrant workforce,” she said.

“We are one of the top tourist locations in the world and want our learning opportunities to link with culture, heritage, tourism management, innovation and sustainability.

“So many assume that working in visitor attractions and hotels are low-skilled jobs. This is definitely not the case. By developing degree and post graduate courses we want to address negative perceptions and help upskill hospitality’s workforce.”

Dr Anthonisz is a former senior lecturer at the Emirates Academy for Hospitality Management in Dubai and has held senior managerial and academic roles in Switzerland, Paris and across the UK as well as running her own hotel business.

She added: “This is about real world learning and the potential is enormous. As we’re offering flexibility, we’re confident of the appeal.”

Former Cumbria Tourism managing director, now a professor of practice at UofC, Ian Stephens, said the new courses would benefit employers and their workforces as well as visitors to Cumbria, of which there are around 47 million a year.

“All those in the industry should applaud and support this inspirational move, which will have an enormous impact across the Lake District and well beyond,” he added.

And CT’s current boss, Gill Haigh, also welcomed the development as the university.

She said: “We are absolutely delighted to have worked closely with UofC to develop this suite of programmes which will provide students with the relevant skills to meet the industry’s growing needs and put them ahead of the game in terms of career progression and opportunities.

“What better place to master your trade than at a university set in a World Heritage Site and in a county offering an increasingly diverse range of full and part time career opportunities.”

Addressing skills in the tourism industry has become an increasingly hot topic with the double whammy of an ageing Cumbrian workforce and potential post-Brexit restrictions on low skilled workers from the European Union.

Around 20,000 non-UK citizens are currently working in the county’s tourism sector, which already faces recruitment challenges.

Under current Government proposals EU workers will need to earn more than £30,000 to stay in the UK longer term, although it is understood to be considering lowering the wage threshold to £22,500.

However, tourism leaders in the county say that this significant reduction would still not be enough in a region where the average wage in hospitality stands at £17,000.