THE Government's new tourism minister has been invited to the county as Cumbria bids to become a Tourism Action Zone.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison hopes to arrange a meeting of all Cumbria’s MPs with the minister, Rebecca Pow, to progress the bid and to showcase the area.

Chairing a tourism meeting in Whitehaven, Mrs Harrison agreed to be an ambassador for the campaign to boost visitor numbers, based on a one-Cumbria approach.

She said: “Tourism I feel is an untapped potential for us and it’s not just about leisure but business visitors also.”

The Government is looking to create five Tourism Action Zones, which would see funding and support for those that need help to increase visitor numbers and make the most of attractions.

Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie said: “An increase of 2 per cent in tourism would put millions into the local economy. Copeland Council is just about to appoint a tourism officer and a coastal communities officer, we are serious about tourism.”

The council, together with Cumbria Tourism and Western Lake District and Coast Tourism Ltd, is developing a Copeland Tourism programme funded by Sellafield Ltd Social Impact Fund, working with businesses to grow new products and target visitors.

The news has been welcomed by bosses at some of the county's tourism attractions.

Peter Frost Pennington, of Muncaster Castle, said: “We successfully attract many visitors but could always do with more. We need to be better at persuading visitors to stay overnight in Copeland.

"We employ up to 100-120 people in the height of the season and these are not ‘Cinderella jobs’. For many it is a good first job, but we also employ many highly skilled people including falconers, stonemasons, foresters, accountants and also operate an internet ticket company from an office in Whitehaven.”

Steve Ratcliffe, of the Lake District National Park said: “We are determined to support tourism businesses in the west and further develop the importance of the visitor economy in this area.”

Jan Wilkinson, of Honister Slate Mine, spoke about her proposed zip wire project, which has been objected to by Natural England.

“Let’s just work together a bit better, it’s the right place for a zip line, there’s no other place you will get that opportunity,” she said.

And Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, supported the project.

She said: “We promote ourselves as an adventure capital but we have serious competition from Scotland and Wales. We must continue to develop experiences that match visitor expectations. What Jan and Honister are proposing is exactly right and if we don’t offer it, people will go elsewhere. Cumbria Tourism has been leading plans for a Cumbria wide bid for a Tourism Action Zone for many months, alongside the LEP and local authority partners, and we strongly welcome Trudy's important support that demonstrates our unity, strength and commitment.”

Whitehaven businessman, Gerard Richardson, said: “I would like to see Whitehaven pushing far more on its history, we don’t play on our American links enough. We have to find a way to market the whole county and we have to have a long-term strategy.”

Martin Keating, Northern (rail) stakeholder manager, said: “We are working closely with colleagues at Stagecoach to make travel as easy as possible for people who visit, live and work in the county. We already have joint tickets that allow customers to travel on bus and train and will seek further ways of working together to help boost tourism. We are also in the process of introducing our brand new and fully refurbished trains which will give all customers in Cumbria a step change in journey experience.”

And Mark Whitelocks, Stagecoach Cumbria managing director, said: “We already make a fantastic contribution to our tourism offer helping visitors maximise the value of their visit and are investing in our business with a wide-reaching marketing plan to encourage both day visitors and people staying for a few days to use the bus.”