Cumbria is preparing ambitious bid for the county to become a new Government Tourism Zone – unlocking the potential for significant investment and policy support to boost the county’s £3 billion sector.

The Government announced plans to create up to five new Tourism Zones in its first-ever sector deal for the tourism industry.

Business secretary Greg Clark said the zones would provide a direct boost to holiday destinations by helping to create new jobs and improve transport connections, with initiatives also including support for product and promotion development, mentoring for businesses and digital skills training.

Cumbria Tourism told in-Cumbria it would be preparing a bid to become a Tourism Zone as part of the Government’s competitive process.

Cumbria is the UK’s second most popular visitor destination after London, and supports 65,000 jobs, representing 20 per cent of the county’s workforce.

The county welcomed 47 million visitors in 2018, with more than 410,000 bed nights booked during the year, as the region’s popularity continues to increase, in part, due to The Lake District’s designation as a World Heritage Site.

Mrs Haigh confirmed that the organisation – which has 2,500 members – will be working with Cumbria County Council, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and the Lake District National Park on a bid to secure the new status.

She said: “We firmly believe that Cumbria is the right location for a new Tourism Zone.

“Being a Tourism Zone would open up great opportunities to further develop the value of Cumbria’s tourism industry, as well as helping us to tackle some of the challenges businesses are facing – not least around skills and labour supply, travel and transport, housing and digital connectivity.

“Our focus now is working collaboratively with partners to put forward Cumbria’s case and to keep up the pressure on key national decision-makers.”

On the tourism sector deal she added: “Make no mistake, this is a real game-changer. We have been lobbying vigorously for an official tourism sector deal for the past 18 months.”

Nigel Wilkinson, chair of Cumbria LEP’s Visitor Economy Sector Panel also welcomed the sector deal, adding: “We particularly welcome the Tourism Zone pilots and believe that Cumbria is ideally placed to become one, given our recent growth and exceptional visitor offer.”

The tourism sector deal also includes a commitment to build 130,000 new hotel rooms by 2025 – with three quarters being built outside London – to help the UK accommodate the 9 million more visitors per year predicted by industry experts.

It will support the creation of an additional 10,000 apprenticeships for people building their careers in the tourism and hospitality sectors, and a new mentoring scheme for 10,000 employees already working in the industry.

A new Tourism Data Hub will be established to regularly collate data showing the latest trends and spends, allowing businesses to better target overseas visitors, and a new strategy will be delivered to grow the number of business events and conferences in a bid to drive off-season visitors, including £250,000 to improve broadband connectivity at conferences centres across the UK.

There will also be a raft of improvements to disabled facilities to help the UK become one of the most accessible destinations for disabled visitors.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal would ensure the UK remained “globally competitive to meet growing demands” and remain a world-leading visitor destination.

Tourism contributed £23 billion to the UK economy in 2018. The value of the sector in Cumbria rose to £3bn for the first time last year, making it one the county’s most important industries, alongside manufacturing.

The deal – developed with the British Tourist Authority and Industry – is part of the UK Government’s Modern Industrial Strategy.

Trade association UKinbound also welcomed the deal.

Its chair, James Aitken, said: “Tourism is a major contributor to the UK economy but is made up primarily of small businesses and cuts across many different policy areas.

“For the first time, we will have a national strategy that will help bring the sector together and collaborate on activities and initiatives.

“This will ultimately help visitors get to destinations quickly and easily, have a better experience in those destinations, improve productivity and efficiency and raise awareness about the fantastic employment opportunities the industry provides.”