With almost 4 million tourism day trips made to East Hampshire in 2014, generating a total spend in the region of £150 million, tourism is an increasingly important part of our local economy.
And interestingly, East Hampshire is bucking regional and national trends for the number of overnight trips made by domestic visitors, and is seeing faster growth now coming from overseas visitors; reflecting the year-on-year growth for inbound visits to the UK.
Many of the reasons for this success were on display when I joined others at the recent Tourist Information Centre Open Day in Petersfield, celebrating the bountiful array of attractions on offer across the area; some of which are known right across the globe, and others that remain hidden local gems.
From the Jane Austen’s House Museum to the Watercress Line, Butser Ancient Farm to the Hollycombe Steam Fair, Grayshott Pottery to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield Museum to the Pheonix Theatre & Arts Centre, Gilbert White’s House to the South Downs National Park, Birdworld to the Chawton House Library, and local theatre groups such as the Winton Players and Petersfield Theatre Group.
There really is something for everyone and for every age, and their uniqueness is part of what makes this area a destination for so many people.
The value that these attractions bring to East Hampshire is significant; not only for accommodation providers, restaurants and shops, but also in terms of employment – 65,000 jobs across Hampshire are estimated to be supported by tourism, with more than 4,000 of these in East Hampshire.
The creation of the South Downs National Park has undoubtedly helped put our region on the map, with both foreign and domestic visitors, and as one of the main gateways to the park, Petersfield is well placed to benefit from that growth, particularly with the ambitious expansion of the Petersfield Museum; a key cultural asset in the heart of the town.
Road access to the District has been greatly improved by the Hindhead Tunnel, but the potential for more sustainable train and bus links into and around the District should be a priority for the future South West rail franchise, including a type of ‘rail and trail’ ticket that would enable visitors to arrive on one train line and depart from another.
But we’re all tourists, and how we spend our leisure time is big business, whether it involves sport, visits to the high street or just enjoying the occasional meal out. The competition for attracting our custom can be fierce and you only have to look at sites such as Tripadvisor to see consumer power – and choice – being exercised.
For many though, a visit to a favourite local attraction will be more about reliving happy childhood memories, possibly with their own children, as many of the venues have been part of local life for several generations and will remain so long after we’ve passed through.
It’s easy to overlook what is right on our doorstep, but we’re well and truly spoilt here in East Hampshire with an extraordinary amount of things to do and see.
I hope you all enjoy being tourists over the coming Easter weekend and school holidays; somehow, that seems to make it more of a treat.
Article written by Damian Hinds and published in Petersfield Post, Wednesday 23rd March 2016