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Mon 18 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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England’s new northern gateway

Since Emirates launched daily flights to Newcastle in 2007, North East England has become one of the UK's hottest destinations outside of London.

Since Emirates launched daily flights to Newcastle in 2007, North East England has become one of the UK's hottest destinations outside of London.

Prior to 2007, most Middle East travellers would not have considered a holiday to the North East of England, preferring instead to visit England's much-loved capital, London.

But the launch of Emirates Airline's daily flight to Newcastle last year and the region's inclusion in the prestigious Lonely Planet Blue List 2008 - the region was labelled the ‘most friendly and exciting region in the UK' - has put the North East on the tourist map.

"The response to the Emirates launch fully justified the introduction of the first ever scheduled long-haul service from Newcastle Airport on September 1st last year. The first two Emirates flights sold out in record time, filling up more than two months in advance - the best sales we've ever had for a UK launch," says an Emirates Airline spokesman.

The region has easy access to many popular tourist spots.

Hayley Beattie, PR officer for UK government development agency One North East concurs that the Emirates flight is "doing really well".

"This is a great new gateway into the UK; nobody needs to go down to London when they can avoid the hassle by flying direct into North East England, which is perfectly placed for popular destinations like Edinburgh, York, the Lake District," she says.

"Emirates Airline has been delighted with the way it's working and there has been a knock-on effect, so we've already seen a lot of improvement work happening at Newcastle Airport as a result. Obviously the airport is now welcoming far more international visitors and it needs to be able to cater to them."

Prior to the Emirates launch the majority of arrivals from the GCC were travelling to the North East region for business, according to Beattie, so One North East is now trying to attract more leisure travellers.

"There is no reason we can't say, ‘ok you're coming over here for business, why not extend it for a few days and have a relaxing time in the region as well?'," she says.

"We're now really trying to get that leisure message out to people, looking at what Middle Eastern travellers want and how we can actually match those needs.

"We're developing a campaign to have some branding up at Dubai Airport, which is in the early stages at the moment."

One North East is marketing the region as a "better value way of getting into the UK" according to Beattie.

"It's an opportunity for Middle East travellers to discover a new part of the country and they can still head down to London. Alternatively fly into London and do a day trip to the North East; jump on a British Airways flight and have a day up at Alnwick Garden and Alnwick Castle and the head back down at the end of the day," she says.

"That's a way for Middle East travellers to experience something different."

The strong presence of VisitBritain in the Middle East is sure to raise awareness of the destination, although it's a challenge to "start from scratch" says Beattie.

"But once they (Middle East travellers) actually find out what attractions are on offer, they are open to trying it and discovering it and we've had a number guests from the region already," she stresses.

Many visitors to the UK have started to look outside London, partly because of the problems with Heathrow's new Terminal 5, according to Beattie.

"We are certainly trying to say to someone thinking of coming to a well known and popular destination like Scotland, for example, ‘fly into Newcastle, have your few days in the North East getting over your jet lag and relaxing and then go up to Edinburgh, which is an hour-and-a-half on the train'," she says.

"York's an hour in the opposite direction and the Lake District is another hour's drive, so the region has easy access to many popular tourist spots."

As well as being a good base from which to explore the rest of Britain, North East England is looking to promote itself as a "region that can host world class events", according to Beattie.

The Tall Ships Race, which was held in the North East for the first time in 2005, attracted two million visitors to the region and the North East will host it again in 2010. The region also hosted the European leg of the World Travel Awards in 2007, which "put it on the map for those kinds of events", according to Beattie.

"The region is very passionate about welcoming people and showing them what we have to offer," she says.

"The attractions are of world-class importance and there's a great mixture of old and new so you can come and discover UK heritage and then you can go into a modern city like Newcastle Gateshead," she adds.

Northumberland

The North East can be easily split into three sub-regions, the first of which is Northumberland - the largest county in the region.

Northumberland is a predominantly rural area, but also home to one of the region's most famous, popular and important tourist sites - Hadrian's Wall.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site that runs 117km across Britain originally marked the northern border of England and boasts a number of forts and, for the more hands-on amongst your clients, the opportunity to get involved in an archaeological dig.

The second must-see in Northumberland is Alnwick Castle where the Duke and Duchess of York still reside for part of the year.

The castle itself is best known as the setting for the Harry Potter films, so it's the perfect attraction for families, but also has enough to keep the parents entertained.

"It's nice because you've got internationally known pieces of art next to family photographs," says Beattie.

"We have more castles in North East England than any other region in the UK and quite a few of them are either hotels or still lived in."

Close to the castle is Alnwick Gardens, born out of the Duchess of Northumberland's desire to have an "internationally renowned garden".

One North East recommends spending the morning strolling around the garden, followed by lunch at the unique tree house restaurant, which has a tree trunk shooting up through its centre.

Beattie adds: "Northumberland's coastline is also absolutely stunning. Quite often you can be on a beach and there is nobody else there, because there are so many beaches and little coves that people don't even know about."Then at the top is Lindisfarne, which is an island off the mainland that can only be accessed twice a day via a causeway. The rest of the time it's completely closed off by the water."

Newcastle Gateshead

At the heart of North East England is Newcastle Gateshead, the region's largest city, home to the region's blossoming art scene and boasting shopping opportunities aplenty and nightclubs, restaurants and bars galore.

"You've got the Tyne Bridge, which is similar looking to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and built by the same company," says Beattie.

This is a great new gateway into the UK; nobody needs to go down to London when they can avoid the hassle by flying direct into North East England.

In terms of art and culture suggest the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art where many famous artists have displayed their work alongside that of local artists and Sage Gateshead, which Beattie says is the "music centre for the region".

Perhaps one of Newcastle's most famous sights though is Antony Gormley's Angel of the North - a 66ft steel sculpture with wings wider than the Statue of Liberty is tall.

"The Angel celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and when that was built it proved a real catalyst for North East England being deemed a centre of excellence, or as a place for artists to come and work," says Beattie.

CountyDurham

At the centre of County Durham sits its lauded Durham city centre - Durham has been named the best city in the UK by Conde Nast Traveller - and the region's second UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durham Castle and Cathedral.

"The city itself offers visitors a real step back in time - cobbled streets, boutique shopping, independent shops, as well as the high street stores," explains Beattie.

"And on the other side of County Durham is the fantastic countryside where we have an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' called the Pennines, which boasts moor lands and wildlife."

County Durham is also home to the Tees Valley and Middlesbrough.

Traditionally the "more industrial side of the region", according the Beattie, this area is now benefitting from a huge regeneration programme and is home to the MIMA Institute of Modern Art.

But, perhaps the jewel in the region's crown for those Middle East travellers looking for luxury accommodation is the area's only five-star hotel, Seaham Hall.

"It's a beautiful hotel, with very modern rooms, all the mod cons that you would expect, a wonderful spa area and a Michelin-star restaurant," explains Beattie.

She also stresses that the region boasts many four-star hotels that "offer something a little bit different".

"Two are in castles, one of which is Lumley Castle, overlooking Durham County Cricket Club," she concludes.

Sample itinerary

Day One - Newcastle Gateshead

Fly direct into Newcastle with Emirates Airline. Drive to the iconic Angel of the North, a 20-metre tall sculpture with wings wider than a jumbo jet. Next visit the Quayside joining Newcastle and Gateshead and take a river cruise to see the seven bridges, including the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Key attractions include the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art - offering free entry - and The Sage Gateshead - a world-class concert hall designed in the shape of your inner ear.

How to sell to:Couples/honeymooners

Those seeking romance should book a few nights at County Durham's Seaham Hall, a five-star resort and spa offering luxury and pampering. Visit www.seaham-hall.co.uk

Culture Vultures

Hadrian's Wall:www.hadrians-wall.org

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art:www.balticmill.com

The Angel of the North:www.gateshead.gov.uk/angel

Mima Institute of Modern Art:www.visitmima.com

Families

Hartlepool Maritime Experience:www.hartlepoolsmaritimeexperience.com The North of England Open Air Museum:www.beamish.org.uk Kielder Water and Forest Park:www.visitnorthumberland.com Seven Stories Centre for Children's Books:www.sevenstories.org.uk Alnwick Castle (setting for Harry Potter movies):www.alnwickcastle.com

The old Georgian quarter offers shopping, restaurants and more galleries and museums. In the heart of Grainger Town is a statues of Earl Grey, a famous local resident after whom the tea is named.

To taste the perfect cup, you can't go wrong at Blackfriars, Britain's oldest restaurant housed in a former thirteenth century monastery. Day Two - Northumberland Coast

The Northumberland Coast is one of the most beautiful in England. Surrounding its long sandy beaches are traditional pubs and excellent restaurants - serving local cuisine like Craster kippers - and lots of castles. The most dramatic is Bamburgh Castle, which can be seen for miles around.

At low tide, drive to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a majestic Ireland cut off from England twice daily by the sea. With only 150 people living on Holy Island it's a relaxing place to visit. You can't leave without trying a glass of ancient Northumbrian Lindisfarne Mead.

A short drive inland and you will reach the typically English villages of Ford and Etal. There are craft shops, a miniature railway and thatched cottages.

Etal Castle is a must for anyone interested in the English-Scottish border warfare that lasted hundreds of years. Day Three - Alnwick

The beautiful market town of Alnwick has two world-class attractions. You might recognise Alnwick Castle from the Harry Potter films and magical mystery tours will show you where Harry learned to fly. Alnwick is Britain's second largest inhabited castle after the Queen's home at Windsor and the castle owns one of Europe's finest collections of Renaissance art. A five minute stroll from the castle through rolling countryside will bring you to The Alnwick Garden. The garden is famous for its tree house restaurant - the largest in the world. Day Four - Hadrian's Wall

To discover the natural beauty of North East England, visit the 2000-year-old Hadrian's Wall. This 73-mile-long World Heritage Site has 25 Roman forts and museums to visit.

Two of the best are Housesteads and Vindolanda. Both have museums and, during the summer, Vindolanda has archaeological digs which visitors can take part in. If you feel like being more active, there are a number of excellent cycle routes, and if you want a really long walk you can go the whole length of the Wall on the National Trail Path - taking an average of six days to complete in full. Day Five - Durham

Another World Heritage Site is the magnificent 1000-year-old cathedral in Durham City, described by author Bill Bryson as ‘the best Cathedral on planet Earth'. Sitting high above the River Wear next to Durham Castle it is a truly awesome sight. If you have the energy to climb the 300 steps of the main cathedral tower the views are worth it.

A stone's throw away from the Cathedral is Crook Hall - a medieval manor house whose beautiful, fragrant garden is the perfect place to relax with a traditional English cream tea. Durham is delightful to wander round with its winding cobbled streets, excellent shops, pubs and restaurants. Day Six - Beamish

Winner of the prestigious ‘European Museum of the Year', Beamish is a massive 300-acre open air museum that recreates a Victorian town and village with period houses, shops, schools and costumed characters. You can don a hard hat and go down the drift mine, take a ride on the 1825 railway ‘Pockerley Waggonway' and see the recreation of the 1813 steam locomotive, Puffing Billy, in action. Day Seven - Tees Valley and York

Bordering Yorkshire, Tees Valley shares the official Captain Cook Trail with Whitby as Captain James Cook was born and grew up in the region. Tees Valley was also the birthplace of the railways with the first passenger service running between Stockton and Darlington. See the first train Locomotion no.1 at Darlington Railway Museum.

For more railway heritage, the National Railway Museum in nearby York is also a great place to relive the Age of Steam. York also boasts a treasure house of 800 years of stained glass at York Minster and an impressive Roman and Viking heritage.

The sales pitchBmi:from Amman to Heathrow, six weekly; from Jeddah and Riyadh to Heathrow, five weekly; from Tehran to Heathrow, six weekly. Bmi offers regular connecting flights from London Heathrow to Manchester.

British Airways:from Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Beirut, Doha, Muscat, Kuwait and Tehran to London Heathrow, daily; from Amman, six weekly, from Dubai, double daily. BA offers regular connecting flights from London Heathrow to Newcastle.

Emirates Airline:from Dubai to Newcastle, daily; to Heathrow, five daily; to Gatwick, three daily; to Manchester and Birmingham, double daily; to Glasgow, daily.

Etihad Airways:from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow, 17 weekly; to Manchester, 16 weekly.

Gulf Air:from Bahrain to London, three daily.

IranAir:from Tehran to London, four weekly.

KuwaitAirways:from Kuwait, four weekly.

Middle Eastern Airlines:from Beirut, daily.

QatarAirways:to Heathrow, four daily; to Manchester, daily.

Royal Brunei: from Dubai to London, six weekly.

Royal Jordanian:from Amman to London, six times weekly.

Saudi Arabian Airlines:from Riyadh to Heathrow, five weekly; to Manchester, two weekly.

Rail Links:There are excellent rail links throughout the UK, with regular trains connecting all major cities with Newcastle in the North East. Visit: www.nationalrail.co.uk

Visas:

GCC nationals and others need to acquire a visa before travelling to the UK. Visit: www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/doineedvisa. All applicants aged five years and over need to attend in person to enrol, providing their fingerprints electronically at a Visa Application Centre in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and throughout the GCC.

For details of the VAC locations in the UAE and how to apply, including the online application system visit www.vfs-uk-ae.com. Travellers are now offered long-term visit visas valid for up to five years, which allow an unlimited number of visits to the UK of up to six months each time, within the visa validity.

Currency:GBP 1 = US $2

Visit:www.visitnortheastengland.com

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