National tourism chiefs and experts today praised Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism for “punching above its weight” and called it “one of the top 10 Destination Management Organisations in the UK”.

Speaking at the Association’s third annual Tourism Forum, which was attended by a number of tourism businesses from the Abergavenny area, the chairman of the Tourism Alliance, Bernard Donoghue, praised its members for “raising the bar” for quality and “taking the area to a new level“.

Donoghue urged the 120 businesses in attendance to be “provocative and disruptive in their marketing”, “use their creativity” and “put customers first”. He also reminded delegates that “tourism is the fifth biggest industry in UK and is responsible for one in three new jobs, and one in five new apprenticeships”, since the referendum.

He was joined by Mari Stevens, director of marketing for VisitWales, who outlined a comprehensive package of domestic and international promotion for Wales themed around a Year of Legends, which builds on 2016’s Year of Adventure.

Stevens also revealed that Wales was named by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s best regions to visit, that the referendum and national team’s success in the Euro 2016 football finals has sparked a tourism boom in 2017.

Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communication at VisitBritain and VisitEngland, who outlined how the referendum has actually sparked an increase in visitors and interest from overseas tourists - particularly USA and China. She said: “Sterling may have been affected by the referendum but we are not a cheap destination, we offer a fantastic welcome and great value for money.”

Yates added: “Europeans say the referendum has had no effect on their likelihood to visit and larger numbers are likely to visit this year.”

The Dean Wye’s executive director, Maureen McAllister unveiled a new destination website, training and development support, plus a new apprentice scheme for young people to gain experience in multiple tourism businesses.

Sally Shalam, tourism commentator and expert, added: “Small businesses are the backbone of the British tourism industry, ambassadors for their region, whose role is immensely important in shaping the modern tourism experience. In an industry as diverse and fragmented as this, events such as the Tourism Forum play a vital role in bringing those at the sharp end of tourism together, under one roof, to meet one another and share ideas.”

Patricia Yates, commented: “The Forum is a fantastic way to kick-start what is set to be an incredibly exciting year for tourism in this region and throughout the country. The event is an exceptional opportunity for VisitBritain/VisitEngland to share its plans for 2017 with the area’s industry leaders and to show how they can grow their tourism economy.”

Prior to today’s Forum came research from VisitBritain that revealed how 2016 was a boom year for day visitors to the area with numbers up nationally by 15% year on year.

Maureen McAllister, executive director of Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism, said: “Tourism is a vital contributor to the regional economy with nearly 8,000 jobs that account for nearly 10% of the workforce. Tourism is the fifth biggest industry in the UK and a vital engine for Britain’s prosperity.

Key statistics* for the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean

Total staying and day trips 6,750,800

Total visitor related spend £367,943,000

Total estimated actual employment 7,790 (5,602 full time employees)

Tourism accounts for 8% of all employment

Every pound spent on marketing returns £43 spent by tourists

The third annual Tourism Forum was held on Wednesday 11 January 2017 at Gloucestershire College, Forest of Dean Campus, Berry Hill, near Coleford.