Tourism is such a big issue for Exmoor that it is the theme of this year’s annual Spring Conference to be held by The Exmoor Society in Dulverton on Friday 24 April 2015. The conference will consider some of the big issues of the day including how we balance tourism with conserving the natural environment, how we can promote unique experiences to visitors and how we fit within the wider region of the South West which is the primary holiday destination in the country.
National Parks, such as Exmoor, were set up just after the second world war, not only to conserve and enhance special landscapes but also to promote people’s enjoyment of them. Access, in particular, to open country such as mountain and moorland, with the provision of a well-managed rights of way system and other visitor amenities such as car parks and loos, were to be developed by the statutory National Park authorities responsible for these designated areas. At the same time there was suspicion by the National Park movement that a tourist industry would encourage large numbers of people and forms of enjoyment that would spoil the very countryside needing protection. Today, in contrast, tourism is seen as the economic driving force in most of these areas and visitors are welcomed to them.
“Worth almost £100m a year tourism is the single largest component of the Exmoor economy and many communities depend on the value it brings to the area,” said Dan James, sustainable economy manager at Exmoor National Park Authority, “research shows that over 95% of visitors are attracted to the area due to the landscape and scenery and the trick is to manage tourism sustainably to ensure the very reason for the National Park designation is not compromised.”
However, how sustainable is tourism in these fragile landscapes and can protection and prosperity go hand-in-hand? Can Exmoor, one of the smallest National Parks, attract more people with so much visitor choice in the South West? Could Visit England do more to encourage rural tourism? What do the visiting public desire from Exmoor? These are some of the questions that will be explored and debated at the Conference.
Rachel Thomas, chairman of The Exmoor Society, said “The conference, in partnership with the National Park Authority, aims to raise important issues and influence the debate on how to manage this complex landscape. We are delighted that a range of speakers, including from Visit England and Exmoor Tourism, will be dealing with the questions raised, with plenty of opportunity for delegates to open up the debate on how to make the best use of the incredible assets found here on Exmoor.”