"A beautiful Regency spa town of around 100,000 residents, sat amidst rolling hills, less than 100 miles from London".
Does that sound familiar to you? Cheltenham, you say? Well, Bath actually. And despite certain obvious similarities, their records on tourism success could scarcely be more different. According to Visit Britain, Bath is the 17th most visited town in the country; ONS figures for 2012 showed Cheltenham coming in at 50th, behind places like Hove.
We can and should be better than that.
Just look at what Cheltenham has to offer – the most complete Regency town in Britain, the largest conservation area within a town in Europe, superb shops, a vibrant arts scene, the Pump Rooms, the nearby Cotswolds. And at this time of year with the Races we're reminded how brilliant Cheltenham is at hosting big events.
Punching so far below our weight is costing us in terms of jobs and opportunity. By 2025, Britain is forecast to have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion – supporting almost 3.8 million jobs. Every year that we miss out, that lost opportunity gets bigger.
So there needs to be a step change in approach. No longer can we have a situation where, as one local councillor complained last year, for National Tourism Week all that was put on in Cheltenham was a cream tea in the Wilson café. I understand consultants have now been appointed and a report has been produced. It's essential this initiative doesn't peter out. Let's be proud of Cheltenham and get our brand out there.
In other news, this week I welcomed local entrepreneurs and employers to an event hosted by the China-Britain Business Council in the Wilson to promote Gloucestershire exporters. I also attended an excellent exhibition put on by the Sue Ryder hospice in Leckhampton.
"This week I have also been supporting National Apprenticeship Week, meeting Cheltenham construction apprentices. There are now a stunning 3,460 more apprentices in Cheltenham compared with 2010. I will continue to back this drive to go further. On that note, it was excellent to see that the number of JSC and UC claimants in Cheltenham is down by 155 compared to this time last year.
All in all, Cheltenham is a wonderful place to visit. It's about time the message got out.