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DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL: £550m tourism ‘shortfall’

DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL: £550m tourism ‘shortfall’

TOURISTS staying nights in County Durham could be a key boost to the economy amid a £550m “shortfall”.

TOURISTS staying nights in County Durham could be a key boost to the economy amid a £550m “shortfall”.

The need for more beds for visitors was highlighted as the head of tourist board Visit County Durham was quizzed by councillors.

Tourism generated £955m from 20.1m visitors in 2019 – but these figures almost halved in 2020 with the devastating impact of Covid-19.

And even pre-Covid figures missed a tough target to generate 17% of the County Durham economy by 2020.

Councillor Bill Moist, chairing Durham County Council’s economy and enterprise scrutiny committee, said: “It’s still a massive amount but it’s also almost £550m short of what your performance was to be.

“Can we improve the performance and possibly make up the £550m shortfall by looking at the whole organisation?”

Michelle Gorman, Visit County Durham managing director, said it had been forecast to reach £1.3bn, nearer the target, by the end of 2020.

“Unfortunately Covid hit, so Covid has had a huge impact,” she said.

“I would say that we are the best placed organisation to deliver that growth.”

But she said the board, with a team of 14 and an annual £705,000 budget, could not do it alone.

She said there was steady year-on-year growth of about 5%, with a positive outlook including government support and the trend for “staycations” fuelling renewed success.

She said: “We have a huge gap in terms of visitor accommodation in the county. We’re way behind our competitors in terms of bed spaces.

“Of those 20m visitors, 92% are day visitors. They don’t generate the economic impact we need in order to achieve a more flourishing visitor economy.

“Overnight stays is actually the key for unlocking the vast potential of the visitor economy.

“It really is those overnight stays that are driving economic benefits.

“We have lacked some of that critical mass of visitor attractions and visitor accommodation.

“We’ve made some inroads into meeting some of those challenges. We’ve got a really healthy pipeline of developments that are coming through in the visitor economy.”

Words: Gareth Lightfoot, Local Democracy Reporter


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