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16 Apr 2007 : Column 139

The overall initiative to develop the Bedfordshire visitor economy is timely in view of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, which will present an unparalleled opportunity to take advantage of the global focus and strengthen the tourism sector. Following a major consultation in 2006, my Department and its partners are preparing a comprehensive strategy for the games. A key priority for Government has been to enable the benefits of that opportunity to be spread across the country as a whole, which obviously includes Mid-Bedfordshire. We are working closely with the regional development agencies and local authorities to deliver that.

Mrs. Dorries: Can the Minister give us an idea of when the strategy group is likely to publish its findings, and when Bedfordshire will know whether it will receive any benefits from the strategy?

Mr. Woodward: I intend to publish the paper towards the end of June or the middle of July. As for the specific benefits for Mid-Bedfordshire, what matters is participation by county councils, other local authorities, and indeed all partners. We are making available the opportunity that results from the United Kingdom’s having won the competition to host the 2012 Olympic games. Having seen the benefits gained by Australia and Athens, we estimate that the UK is likely to benefit from at least £2 billion. It is certain that those who wish to benefit may do so, but they will need to develop their own strategies, tailor-made to their own communities. I am sure that, given the considerable list of visitor attractions that the hon. Lady managed to visit in just one week—tourism week—there are many attractions that could be open to visitors.

It must be recognised that this is the greatest marketing opportunity that the UK tourism industry will ever enjoy. Some 4 billion of the world’s population will view the Olympics and the run-up to them. Of course they will look at the sport on offer, but they will also look at what the UK offers the rest of the world. This is a country to visit not just for the Olympics, but to explore every part of our wonderful countryside, our wonderful towns and cities, our zoos and our historic houses. It is incumbent on the Government, having created the opportunity, to ensure that all visitor attractions, and all those 110.000-plus
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businesses in the tourism industry realise that there is huge potential for every visitor attraction, every bed and breakfast, every hotel, every business visitor attraction and every conference centre to benefit from the Olympics.

It will be those who readily embrace the opportunity who will do best. I am sure that under the sterling and strong leadership of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire they will wish to steer their local tourism industry to take advantage of that.

A key priority has been to ensure that the benefits are spread across the country and we will work closely with the regional development agencies and local authorities to deliver this. Indeed regional business plans have been developed through the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games’ nations and regions groups including the East of England Development Agency’s rising to the challenge programme.

Bedfordshire is well placed to benefit. Its draft strategy is still at a relatively early stage, but the attractiveness of its tourism offer, relative proximity to London and good transport links, although, as the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire said, they could be even better, mean that it has huge potential for better development as a tourist destination. I congratulate the hon. Lady on raising the subject, and, over the next six years, I look forward to other hon. Members also debating tourism, because such tourism opportunities will never be had again. This is an opportunity for the tourism industry not only to embrace those opportunities, but to raise its game, because the significance of our tourism offer is absolutely enormous. The benefits to be enjoyed are not just to be had in the run-up to the games or in 2012, because by offering the visitor an extremely good experience once, there is a possibility that they will come back again and again. Even if those visitors only manage to visit one of the visitor attractions in Mid-Bedfordshire during their first stay, it is perfectly clear from the hon. Lady’s speech that there are many other similar attractions still to be enjoyed. Given the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for and commitment to her consituency, every visitor to it will be welcome whether they come from the UK or from abroad.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o’clock.

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