Holiday hotspots such as Torbay 'shouldn't rely on tourism'
The Westcountry economy's dependence on tourism has been laid bare as official figures show parts of the region employ more people in the sector than anywhere else in the UK.
Torbay in Devon topped the league table of regions boasting the highest number of jobs in the holiday industry as a proportion of the total workforce in 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Some 16.7% of people work in tourism in the South Devon coastal resort, dubbed the "English Riviera".
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have the third highest proportion, with 14.9% of people working in the industry. By contrast, the figure was only 5.1% in Sandwell, West Midlands.
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The region has long been a holiday hotspot, but many commentators fear tourism has become too dominant as traditional industries including mining, engineering and fishing have declined.
While the sector has shed some of its image for providing only low-paid, seasonal jobs, business leaders have been keen to encourage the growth of new and emerging industries – playing up the high-quality lifestyle the region offers. Torbay's aspiration to be a high-tech UK centre was dashed when Paignton-based electronics giant Nortel collapsed in the last decade, taking thousands of jobs with it.
Accountant Bishop Fleming recently warned Torbay should not rely solely on tourism against fears that elected mayor Gordon Oliver was not doing enough to attract other industries.
Torbay MP Adrian Sanders said: "They are all welcome jobs, but we need a more diverse economy if people are to earn the sort of sums of money they want to."
And while the Kingskerwell bypass road scheme, currently under construction, presented a "magnificent opportunity" for the economy, he added: "The mayor is on a single track tourism direction that will be regretted by generations to come."
In Cornwall, 2,500 engineering jobs have been forecast at an aerospace "hub" at the area's airport near Newquay – a stark contrast to vacancies in the nearby town, a British holiday Mecca.
Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, said: "It's clear that the tourist industry is a vital part of our local economy and a growing one too.
"The good news is that longer seasons and increasing professionalism means that local people can build a career in the industry.
"But we also have to ensure we continue to develop our other sectors, like manufacturing and agriculture, so that we have a balanced economy with opportunities for one and all."
Devon ranked 26th (10.6% of the workforce are employed in tourism), Dorset 36th (10.1%), Somerset 74th (8.6%), and Plymouth 124th (6.8%). London has the largest number of jobs related to the industry with 16.6% of all tourism-related employment in the UK.