RISING numbers of tourists brought £1.26bn into the North East economy last year, despite difficult economic conditions, with that figure set to rise again in 2012.
New figures from NewcastleGateshead Initiative, the agency tasked with promoting the area to visitors, revealed that 1.7 million visitors stayed overnight in the neighbouring city and town, an increase of 5% on 2010. Meanwhile, overnight visitor spend rose by 2% to £360m.
Live music such as Westlife and Katy Perry at the Arena and the RSC at the refurbished Theatre Royal helped tourism beat the slump last year with Olympics football and Newcastle United helping to continue the trend this year.
Sarah Stewart, chief executive of NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said: “Tourism is hugely important to the area and generated £1.26bn in 2011 alone. It is fantastic to see that despite an increasingly difficult economic environment, and often poor weather conditions, the sector continues to grow.
“There’s loads to see in Newcastle Gateshead, from on-going festivals to large-scale music concerts and a fantastic arts and theatre programme.
“We saw a huge surge of visitors to the area during the Olympics when the football was on and also Newcastle United’s relative success last year attracted a lot more people to the region.”
The report shows employment in the area’s tourism industry has increased by 2%, with the number of employees across the sector now reaching 18,321.
Last year saw four hotels open in NewcastleGateshead and another two, Hotel Indigo and Ramada Encore, open in early 2012.
This has had a positive impact on employment within the hotel sector, with figures showing a growth of 12% last year, to 1,418 employees.
Stewart said: “We have been targeting our activity very carefully around nesting cosmos, who are young couple wanting to spend three or four nights here.
“This group has been less affected by the recession than many others. They still have spending money and are taking regular weekend breaks.
“They are young professionals, on relatively well-paid jobs, who are seeking city breaks on a pretty frequent basis. Outside of London, across all the English cities, Newcastle and Manchester have the highest occupancy rates.
“From leisure visitors, to business tourists attending conferences, we have proved time and time again we have the diversity and quality of hotels to cater for a range of markets.
Jurys Inn on NewcastleGateshead Quays was the second Jury’s to open in the area and has had a positive year since opening.
General manager David Malanaphy said: “The area is definitely on the rise in terms of visitors spending the night and we were keen to extend our brand presence to tap into that growing market.
“We’ve exceeded all expectations in our first year in terms of capacity. With the range of festivals and events year round and the exciting recent Olympic football, it’s a great place to visit and to stay overnight.”
According to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) figures, the travel and tourism industry is expected to directly contribute £35.6bn and almost 950,000 jobs to the British economy during 2012.
When the wider economic impacts of the industry are taken into account, travel and tourism is forecast to contribute over £100bn to the UK economy and generate 2.3 million jobs or one in 13 of all jobs in the UK.