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Impact of Brexit on Kent's tourism industry discussed

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Brexit's impact on Kent's tourism industry has been downplayed by optimistic councillors who claim the county "will weather the storm".

Fears about congestion and Operation Brock traffic blockages has "put off" several tour organisers from visiting the Garden of England ahead of next month's potential no-deal Brexit, a Kent County Council committee was told.

Kent's tourism sector fears county will be less attractive post Brexit

Around 65 million tourists have visited Kent since 2013, which has in turn supported 77,000 jobs in the county, but KCC's growth, economic development and communities cabinet committee was told Brexit could have a negative impact.

Dave Smith, the director of economic development at Kent County Council, told the committee at Maidstone County Hall: "When Brexit was expected on March 29, there were multiple cancellations in hotels and a lot of empty rooms that then had to be sold at knocked down prices."

But, some committee members rejected this notion, saying that while "project fear" had become a self-fulfilling prophecy in March, the county would be able to "weather the storm" in the coming months.

In addition, Mr Smith said the county had become a "good value for money" visit for some foreign tourists due to the 25% drop in the value of sterling since the EU referendum in June 2016.

The revelations came as part of a discussion about how the county council's visitor economy has been performing since 2014.

Around 65 million tourists have visited Kent since 2013
Around 65 million tourists have visited Kent since 2013

Cllr Dara Farrell, the leader of the Labour Party on KCC, said Brexit has already had a negative impact on tourism in Kent, particularly the coastal areas, including Dover, Folkestone, Hythe, and Thanet.

However, Tunbridge Wells councillor Sean Holden (Con) and West Malling councillor Matthew Balfour (Con) dismissed Cllr Farrell's pessimism.

Cllr Balfour said: "I believe this organisation is going to weather this storm extremely well."

Cllr Holden added: "I think we can be a bit distracted by the big noises of the moment.

"I'm very sorry that project fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy in March."

To help boost the county’s tourism economy, KCC is searching for a tender to run its visitor service over the next five years, starting from April next year.

Councillors say Kent will "weather the storm" of Brexit
Councillors say Kent will "weather the storm" of Brexit

The contract of the current provider, Visit Kent, expires in March 2020 and a new commercial business could come in to stimulate economic growth in the county from around £1bn to £5bn by 2025.

As part of the contract, the company would be expected to help businesses get through Brexit by linking up with organisations on the continent and bringing in tourists.

Responding to Visit Kent chief executive Deirdre Wells OBE said: "While the re-tendering of the KCC tourism contract will be a fully open and competitive process, Visit Kent will be bidding to secure the new contract, in order to build on the considerable success which we have achieved in recent years.

"Having recently succeeded in our ambition, which was set at the outset of the last contract, to secure five million extra visitors and 50,000 new jobs, we are looking forward to working with businesses across the county to take that ambition still further, generating £5 billion for the visitor economy by 2025.

"As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, it will be more important than ever to have a strong a robust tourist board, with experience of strong bilateral relations with our near European neighbours, and a well-recognised national and international profile, to ensure that our vibrant visitor economy continues to go from strength to strength."

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