IT'S the great debate - which could influence the direction that tourism in York will take for years to come

As many as 160 key players in the tourism sector will converge tomorrow afternoon at the Royal York Hotel for The Big Tourism Debate, as a way of launching the city's new tourism organisation, Visit York The invitation-only event will take the form of the BBC's Question Time programme.

Panellists will include Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of Visit York, Bill Woolley, director of city strategy, Dionysis Bekatoros, the taxi driver who was last year's York tourism ambassador, and Ray Jones, brand development director for Superbreak The launch of Visit York brings with it £766,666 of investment for York from Yorkshire Forward, the region's development agency.

That is the city's share of a multi- million pound project to back the development of three new area tourism partnerships in York and North Yorkshire (six for the Yorkshire region as a whole).

Visit York's major task will be to maintain and intensify York's success as the 2007 European Tourism City of the Year, as the UK's Best City in the Telegraph Travel Award and as the 54th most popular destination in the world as assessed by

Its importance is underlined by the fact that tourism employs one in ten of the local workforce (9,970 people).

Tourism spending by visitors has risen by more than 50 per cent in the last 12 years, (£332.9 million in 2006) and visitor numbers are at a record 4.2 million.

Visit York aims to increase tourism spend by five per cent yearly in line with Yorkshire Forward's growth targets.

Represented in the audience will be big hitters from the tourism industry, including Yorkshire Forward, the Yorkshire Tourist Board, National Express, Grand Central Railway, York Minster and the National Railway Museum.

They will be alongside representatives from a wide range of hotels, guest houses, attractions, restaurants and shops in the city.

John Yeomans, chairman of Visit York, said: "It is a great opportunity for us to listen to the industry, take on board their views and debate the way forward for tourism in York."

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