Last week was English Tourism week and on the Friday I met with Sandra Matthews-Marsh, the chief executive of Visit Kent, to discuss the importance of this vital industry to our county. Tourism is one of our largest employers, and accounts for around 12% of all jobs in Kent. Whilst visitors from the rest of the UK form an important part of the market, inbound tourism from overseas is also growing strongly.
A recent study commissioned by Visit Kent shows that in 2013 there were nearly one million staying trips by overseas visitors to our county. The total spend of these tourists in Kent was around £300million. Whilst London has received an ongoing boost to tourism since the 2012 Olympic Games, and is now the most visited city in the world, it is great to see that Kent is benefiting from rising numbers as well.
There has been substantial investment from local businesses in improving to offer for tourists and visitors in Kent. In Folkestone and Hythe, we have seen hotels investing in refurbishing their rooms and events spaces, and new cafes and restaurants opening up. On Monday I met with Bob O’Connor, the Managing Director of the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park. Over the last few years, Port Lympne has invested in providing new overnight accommodation through its new ‘glamping’ facilities and the luxury treehouse accommodation. They have also converted the mansion house into a successful boutique hotel, and all of these innovations have attracted a substantial increase in visitors. This Easter, on Good Friday, Port Lympne is opening its latest attraction, a dinosaur park, and I sure this will be another popular addition to the estate.
This weekend sees the re-opening of the Harbour Arm in Folkestone after some winter repairs. It proved to be a great success last summer, when for the first time in many years, we were able to enjoy being out there, taking in a different view of the town. The Harbour Arm will, I’m sure, continue to attract more people to come back to Folkestone and experience the exciting regeneration of the old town and creative quarter for themselves. It has been many years since we have approached the spring and summer season with so many businesses opening and expanding in the town. The refurbishment of the Harbour Arm has been an important early stage in the regeneration of the Folkestone seafront. More work is planned for this year, and I hope we will here about these proposals shortly.
It is excellent news as well that Shepway Council has given its approval for the new urban sports centre in Tontine Street, proposed by the Roger De Haan charitable trust. This new building will create a state of the art indoor skatepark and biking facility. It will be available for local residents to use at a nominal annual fee, but as there is nothing else like it in the country, or even the world, will I’m sure attract many enthusiasts from far and wide to come and enjoy it.