More than 280 delegates from tourism businesses and organisations from both sides of the Channel gathered for a Why Travel Further? conference at the Ashford International Hotel.
Mark Dance, tourism cabinet member for Kent County Council, and Amanda Cottrell, chairman of Visit Kent, welcomed guests and tourism champions from Norfolk, Suffolk, Nord Pas de Calais, Flanders and The Netherlands as part of the Proximity Cluster.
Keynote presentations addressing key issues on how to encourage people to holiday closer to home were given by representatives of VisitBritain, Netherlands NBTC, TripAdvisor, and responsibletravel.com.
Delegates shared insights, opportunities and challenges from their European-funded research and projects into different aspects of tourism in their regions.
The Proximity Cluster partners provided highlights from the successful delivery of four European cross-border research projects – the Sustainable Tourism Research and Intelligence Partnership (SusTrip), Greet The World, Coastal Actions for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) and Balance.
Following the presentations and networking opportunities, delegates were taken on study trips to a range of Kent visitor destinations which highlighted key themes of the conference including Leeds Castle, near Maidstone; and Biddenden Vineyards; Palace Farm, Faversham;
Sandra Matthews-Marsh, chief executive of Visit Kent, said: ”Cross-border partnerships and research projects are essential for the successful development of a sustainable tourism industry for all the participating regions.
“I am delighted that the research findings are going to be published later this year for businesses in our sector to share under the title Why Travel Further?, which we also adopted as our conference theme.
“And we are pleased that 2 Seas Interreg funding has been made available for us to work with tourism businesses and organisations in Flanders, France and The Netherlands to share best practice and develop creative partnerships to grow our visitor economies.”
Mrs Matthews-Marsh said tourism is vital to the economic prosperity of Kent and the whole country and a key driver in creating new jobs. Tourism currently contributes £3.4billion to the county economy, supporting 4,000 businesses and 64,400 jobs.
“Visit Kent is on a mission to grow those figures and the detailed research we have undertaken as part of the European-funded initiatives and the new partnerships we have made as a result, mean we are in an excellent position to grow our visitor businesses, attract new investment and create new employment opportunities for our school and college leavers,” she added.