Visit County Durham is Durham’s destination management organisation and works with local, regional and national partners to grow the county’s visitor economy. It also provides valuable support to businesses through a range of functions, including marketing, product development, research, quality improvements, routes to market, and training.
In February, Visit County Durham was one of the first destination management organisations in the country to be accredited as a Local Visit Economy Partnership (LVEP). It follows a major national review of the future of destination management in England, with LVEPs representing the highest tier of strategic regional tourism bodies under the new government structure.
The government’s decision to pilot England’s first Destination Development Partnership (DDP) in the North East is further testament to the great potential that exists in the region. Visit County Durham, NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Visit Northumberland have been awarded £2.25 million to support work to grow the visitor economy, realise untapped potential, attract more visitors, offer new experiences and create jobs and opportunities.
The latest tourism figures show there is a great deal to be optimistic about. Despite 2021 beginning with a four-month lockdown, Durham went on to welcome 15.7 million visitors that year, an increase of 38.5 per cent on 2020. Visitor spend also increased by 63 per cent to £826.68 million, while the number of people employed within the sector rose by 48 per cent to just over 10,000.
New tourism products have also been developed such as the Northern Saints Trails, six long distance walking trails based on ancient pilgrimage routes.
And with multi-million-pound developments underway at attractions including Raby Castle, The Auckland Project, Locomotion and Beamish, The Living Museum of the North, the county’s visitor economy is on track to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2023.
Hospitality group Ramside Estates is one of the businesses investing in facilities in the county. Last year, the group unveiled ambitious plans for a £13m expansion of Hardwick Hall Hotel near Sedgefield.
The family-run business has already made significant investments in recent years, including the launch of luxury treehouses at Ramside Hall in 2020. Earlier this year, it opened The Funky Monk, a selection of stylish serviced apartments in Durham City.
At Hardwick Hall Hotel, Ramside Estates plans to create a luxury spa and health club and additional 35 bedrooms. The new scheme will rejuvenate buildings that have been derelict for more than 60 years, while also creating or sustaining 140 temporary construction jobs and 63 new full and part jobs once completed.
John Adamson, owner of Ramside Estates, said: “As a long-standing hospitality business in the North East, we are well aware of what a vital contribution the visitor economy makes to the region as a whole.
“Having expanded our operation in recent years – from extending our hotels, building an award-winning spa, creating championship golf courses and opening a range of unique venues across the North East – we know what an appetite there is with visitors to see what we can offer.
“We are lucky enough to have so many attractions in the region and to have spectacular history, coast and countryside, all of which are fantastic draws not just for people in the UK but also with an international audience.
“This is why it is vital for us to continue to build on these foundations and why we at Ramside Estates continue to invest and create new venues as well as increasing the facilities at our existing properties.
“We are one of the largest privately owned leisure companies in County Durham. It is where we were established, where we have built our name and where we are committed to growing and developing.
“It’s essential that the region as a whole commits to boosting our visiting numbers because it plays such an integral part in our future prosperity. Not only does a vibrant hospitality industry create jobs but it also boosts other sectors such as retail and leisure, raises the profile of the North East which can only help with future investments.”
Having supported businesses throughout the pandemic, Visit County Durham is now tackling the challenge of the cost-of-living crisis by promoting budget friendly experiences. It is also targeting the business events and conferencing market, which has been identified in the government’s tourism recovery plan as presenting great opportunities post covid. Visit County Durham has launched a new website bringing together the county’s conference, meeting and events venues. Meetindurham.co.uk also promotes Durham’s high- quality accommodation and delegate experiences and targets meeting and conference organisers.
PR and marketing campaigns are another key focus, with Visit County Durham delivering its own campaigns and forming strategic national and international marketing partnerships. This includes working with partners across the region on a major tourism campaign targeting the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia through the VisitEngland Gateway Fund.
The shortlisting of Durham’s countywide bid to be UK City of Culture 2025 has had a positive impact on the visitor economy, raising the profile of the county’s cultural offer on a national level. Visit County Durham is harnessing the energy surrounding the bid to showcase Durham as the ideal destination for culture lovers.
To find out more about the work of Visit County Durham visit, Visitcountydurham.org