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Shropshire leading tourism from the front

By Dominic Robertson | Attractions | Published:

New figures released today show that British tourism is surging – and Shropshire is doing its bit.

Our county is home to a huge range of historic and unique tourist attractions and the sector is the second biggest part of the county's economy, accounting for 17 per cent, second only to the health industry.

Attingham Park, Cosford Air Museum, The Iron Bridge, and the county's idyllic countryside are just some of the favourites for staycations, day-trippers, and even those coming from further afield.

Today VisitBritain has revealed that a key target on tourism has been reached two years ahead of target.

The organisation had set out to attract more than 40 million foreign visitors a year by 2020, but the number has already hit 40.9 million. Those tourists are expected to boost the economy by spending an incredible £26.3 billion. Inbound visits reached a record 39.2 million in 2017 - up four per cent on the previous year – while spending rose by nine per cent to £24.5 billion.

There has also been a spike in domestic tourism, with visits and spending up six per cent year-on-year in 2017.

Shropshire Star comment:

Shropshire benefits because it has attractions like the Iron Bridge that bring in international visitors but others, such as Attingham Park, where the overwhelming number of visitors are either day-trippers or people on holidays from within the UK.

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UK tourism bosses say the industry is a "£127 billion powerhouse" and today urged the Government to give it more support.

Within Shropshire, tourism is a key part of the future blueprint of the future of the county and the county council's portfolio holder for economic growth, Councillor Nic Laurens, said there needs to be more focus on promoting the region with one voice.

He said the council has also been looking at how other towns have built on their successful tourism industry.

He said: "We recently went to visit Chester and we went up there to look at what they do and how they do it because they are a really good model and it gets a lot of tourism in.

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Bridge Street, Chester. Photo: Crashlanded

"We are driving to try and get tourism in a collective group in Shropshire because my opinion has always been that there are too many groups doing a bit of this, a bit of that, and if we could bring bring them all together it would be better for the county as a whole so we can sell the whole brand of Shropshire."

Councillor Laurens said that despite the county's major tourist attractions, more could be done to make Shropshire a major venue for international visitors, revealing that discussions have taken place with major hotel chains with a view to setting up in the county – something he sees as an important part of bringing more people to Shropshire.

He said: "We are driving forward and we are speaking to a number of major hotel providers because we do not have enough good hotels. We could do with a really good five star hotel and that is something we hear from visitors. If they can come and stay for longer then they can spend more money and that helps the whole county."

A Visit England survey earlier this year revealed the region's most popular attractions.

Croquet on the lawn at Attingham Park

Attingham was the most visited paid for attraction in the county with 464,871 visitors. In the free category the RAF Museum at Cosford saw 356,874 visitors placing it in third in the West Midlands behind Birmingham Mac theatre and the Birmingham Museum.

A number of other attractions also made the list with Bridgnorth Cliff Railway the 14th most popular paid-for experience.

Others to feature in the top 20 free attractions included St Mary the Virgin Church in Shrewsbury and St Laurence’s, in Church Stretton, which placed 9th and 12th respectively, followed by Shrewsbury’s Abbey which was 15th.

Councillor Laurens said that despite the success the county cannot rest on its laurels.

He said: "I am delighted with tourism in the county but I think we have a lot to do. We have got a great offering but we need to shout about it more."

But the secret to the county's success isn't just the visitors, with Shropshire residents making up a huge part of the success.

That's the case at Attingham Park – the West Midlands' third biggest paid tourist attraction and Shropshire's biggest.

Severn Valley Railway at Bridgnorth

More than 460,000 people visited the National Trust property outside Shrewsbury last year, and general manager Mark Agnew said it is largely the people of Shropshire who make up the hundreds of thousands who visit the property.

He said: "More than 80 per cent of our visitors are regular local repeat visitors from a 30 minute drive time from Shrewsbury and Telford. Our visitor base is local people and it always has been. We are a Shropshire property, loved and supported by the Shropshire people and that is the secret to our success.

"We do see a small number of foreign tourists and they might be visiting the Welsh Marches or going into Wales but it's a very small number.

"It is not a market we aim at. We are here for everyone but we recognise it is the loyal local support base that enables us to look after Attingham.

"I have been here for 12 or 13 years and right from the start it was very obvious it was local people and their support that would allow Attingham to thrive."

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