by Kevin Redsull
According to golf management consultant Michael Lovett, Kent - and east Kent in particular - will have a gold-plated opportunity to market the area as a favoured destination for higher-spend tourists next year.
That opportunity is, of course, the return of the Open Championship in July 2011 to Royal St George's Golf Club.
The Championship was last held at Sandwich in 2003 and drew 183,000 visitors, boosting the east Kent economy to the tune of nearly £18 million.
St George's lies next door to Prince's Golf Club at Sandwich Bay, where Mr Lovett was recently installed as chief executive.
Prince's is to co-host the British Amateur Championship with the Royal Cinque Ports at Deal in 2013, and both those clubs will also act as final qualifying venues for the 2011 Open.
Mr Lovett, who works for International golf management company Troon Golf, believes that east Kent has yet to capitalise on the massive potential the area offers as a popular destination for overseas golf lovers.
"We need to drive more tourists into east Kent - it's a great area for golf," he said. "We have three championship courses sitting right next to each other (Royal St George's, Prince's and Royal Cinque Ports), plus Open qualifying courses such as Littlestone and North Foreland nearby.
"The port of Dover is 20 minutes away, we are only one-and-a-half hours from Gatwick, there is a high-speed train service from London, apart from the golf, Deal and Sandwich are beautiful towns and Canterbury is only half an hour away. As far as I am concerned, tourists should be pouring into this area, and one of the keys to achieving that is the return of the Open in 2011.
"For one week, the area will benefit from millions of people around the world watching the championship on television."
He said Troon will be working with tour operators, ferry companies, organisations such as Visit Kent and the local councils and tourist boards - "whoever and whatever it takes" - to attract more visitors.
He points to the success of Southport in the north-west of England in marketing themselves as "England's Golf Coast", based around the Open championship courses at Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham St Annes.
"Southport does it very professionally, they market the area worldwide. They have representatives at all the big travel conferences, all the golf shows.
"They have a specific golf officer working for all the local councils and his job is to get journalists continually writing about the area as a golfing destination in newspaper and magazine articles. We are not talking about reinventing the wheel here, it just needs a few good people who have the necessary drive and determination, and in my short time in the area I have already met enough people who I think possess those qualities.
"Now it's Troon Golf's job to help them capitalise on the Open coming back here.
"If we get everything right through the next 18 months, we will be able to enjoy the Open week in July 2011 and then build on it for the future. But it's got to be a team effort."