Herald Column 01/04/17

CA + Chamber at Belgian Cafe

Eastbourne, ‘eastern gateway town’ to the South Downs, has a long history of welcoming visitors, including the royal and famous.

This year’s English Tourism Week, which runs until Sunday, has a literary hero theme. Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens were both our guests in times past.

Of course, Eastbourne has much to gain from making sure visitors continue to come to our country in great numbers.

And in great numbers they do, with the visitor economy for just England alone worth £160 billion and it supports 2.6 million jobs.

It is also a great entry to work for school leavers, and many business people cut their entrepreneurial teeth in the sector; so, the positives are numerous and everything must be done to protect and enhance the industry.

Eastbourne is no exception to all this, and I think it remains a truly wonderful place to visit.

The added bonus of government millions to be spent on the Devonshire Park redevelopment will do much to increase our attractiveness, alongside our wonderful seafront and coastline.

Brexit, of course, has caused worry, especially over fears that students and language learners might not come here after we leave the EU.

I do not think these fears will be realised. Britain will remain a pre-eminent place to come and learn our global language, and the ease and ability of anyone wanting to come for the summer to Eastbourne will not be made difficult because of our exit from the EU.

Of course, Eastbourne and other tourist areas will have a part to play in telling the story of Britain post-Brexit. There has been inaccurate reporting in the world that we are turning our backs on other countries, when the truth is we are certainly not.

But tourist bodies like VisitBritain need to make sure the true, positive message that we are open, still just as friendly, and a great place to visit are transmitted around the globe.

There are challenges, with visitor numbers falling at London museums last year because of terror attacks on the continent. The sad images of London last week won’t help either, but will not be long lasting. On Article 50 day itself, Parliament and its environs were absolutely buzzing with international visitors.

The weaker pound making us an attractive place to visit at the moment is the good news with Americans, in particular, coming to our shores.

In fact, VisitBritain is forecasting 38.1 million visits in 2017 – an increase of 4.0 per cent on 2016.

So, my view is we have a great tourist future here in Eastbourne and beyond. We must not be complacent and we must make sure the world knows we are welcoming and safe, but Brexit will not derail the industry and I think the opportunities are there for a big increase in tourism in the years to come.