D-Day is looming for the Lake District’s bid to become a World Heritage Site.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is holding its annual meeting in Krakow, Poland, this week and next. It is due to due to begin deliberations on Friday on 34 applications to become World Heritage sites.
The Lake District’s bid is among them.
If it is approved, the English Lakes will join an exclusive club that includes the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef and, closer to home, Hadrian’s Wall.
Jim Walker, Interim Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, believes that inscription as a World Heritage Site will make the Lake District more attractive as a visitor destination.
He said: “We operate in a very competitive field and we are particularly optimistic about the imminent Lake District World Heritage Site announcement, which should be another great opportunity to communicate our world class credentials to international and domestic markets.”
The bid has not been without controversy. While tourism businesses are overwhelmingly supportive, others have expressed concerns about red tape and further planning restrictions that could follow inscription.
However, supporters argue there will be few restrictions over and above those that already apply in the National Park. They say most of these additional restrictions are confined to domestic solar panels, stand-alone solar systems, and flues for biomass heating or combined heat and power systems.
Nigel Wilkinson, managing director of Windermere Lake Cruises, is an enthusiastic supporter of the Lake District’s bid.
He said: “We are particularly looking forward to World Heritage Site inscription because we believe there will be strong benefits in international markets. It will provide another reason for international visitors to come here.”
Research carried out by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, for the Department of Culture Media and Sport, suggests that World Heritage Site inscription brings an increase in visitor numbers of up to 3%.
That doesn’t sound much but, given the sector was worth £2.72bn to Cumbria last year, a 3% increase would be worth £81.6m – not to be sniffed at – and would potentially create another 2,900 jobs.
Tourism is already enjoying a purple patch thanks to the weakness of sterling since the EU referendum, which makes it cheaper for overseas visitors to come. Conventional wisdom suggests there should also be an upturn in “staycations” as the weak pound makes it expensive for Brits to go abroad.
Official figures don’t bear this out, however.
Overseas visitor numbers are indeed up sharply. International tourists made a record 11.8m visits to the UK between January and April, up 11% on the same period last year. And they spent £6.2bn, up 14% on 2016.
But Brits are continuing to take holidays abroad despite the additional expense. Trips overseas by UK residents are up 3% so far this year.
Nigel Wilkinson has no doubt that Cumbria is benefiting from the increase in international visitors.
He said: “We have seen a marked increase. Part of that is down to the [weak] pound and partly because the UK was seen as a safer destination following [terrorist] incidents in Tunisia, Turkey, France and Germany.
“It remains to be seen what impact recent events in London and Manchester will have on that perception.”
Tourism is vitally important to Cumbria. In 2016, Cumbria received just over 45m million visitors, bringing in £2.72bn to the region’s economy and generating 36,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
He says that much of the growth in overseas visitor numbers has come from the Far East. Cumbria has a history of attracting visitors from Japan where Beatrix Potter books are used to teach English.
Now the Chinese are coming too, aided by the introduction of direct flights from Beijing to Manchester by Hainan Airlines last year.
Nigel said: “We have seen significant growth in some of the Far East markets, China is the most prominent but across the piece in South East Asia.
“To such an extent that people have commented about the cosmopolitan feel of walking down the promenade in Bowness.”
How long sterling remains weak is anyone’s guess but, whatever happens to the pound, the county’s tourism sector remains bullish – the upward trend in visitor numbers pre-dates the collapse in the pound.
Cumbria attracted 45m visitors last year of whom 39m were day trippers, mostly from the north of England.
The remaining 6m, who stayed for one night or longer, contribute disproportionately more per capita to the county’s economy.
Jim Walker added: “Tourism is vitally important to Cumbria. In 2016, Cumbria received just over 45m million visitors, bringing in £2.72bn to the region’s economy and generating 36,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
“Between 2015 and 2016, there was an increase of 5.2% in tourist numbers and 4.1% in tourism revenue.”
Meanwhile, research commissioned by the British Hospitality Association identifies that the sector has grown faster than any other since 2008 and is set to create another 500,000 jobs over the next five years.
The research, by Ignite Economics, shows that hospitality already employs 3.2m directly and 2.8m indirectly, making it Britain’s fourth largest employer.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce