Almost of half of the £3 billion generated by the tourism sector in Cumbria last year emanated from the “economic powerhouse” of South Lakeland.

The sector, claimed by tourism chiefs as the county’s biggest, reached the £3bn figure for the first time in 2018.

Now detail figures show that £1.3bn of the total, or 44 per cent, was generated in the South Lakeland district, home to honeypot areas around Windermere and Coniston Water, as well as Kendal and the majority of the county’s Morecambe Bay coast.

The figure – up 5.6 per cent on 2017 – puts the district head and shoulders above second-placed Carlisle, which generated £558 million (18 per cent) and Allerdale in third with £469 million (16 per cent).

Visitor numbers to South Lakeland were also significantly up, according to the data from the Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor, or better known as STEAM.

In 2018, 18.54m visitors came to the district – a significant chunk of the overall 47m visitors to Cumbria and an increase of nearly 200,000 on 2017.

Tourism also supports 16,177 full-time jobs in South Lakeland.

Councillor Robin Ashcroft, South Lakeland District Council’s new portfolio holder for Economy, Culture and Leisure, hailed the figures as a sign of the district’s economic health.

“Once again we have a report that confirms how strong the South Lakeland economy is performing and what a vital role this district plays in the wider Cumbrian economy.

“The fact that nearly half of the entire £3 billion Cumbrian tourism revenue is generated in South Lakeland demonstrates what an economic powerhouse this area is.

It is also gratifying to see that this growth is helping to create more jobs, with tourism now supporting more than 16,000 full-time jobs in South Lakeland.

“This is further evidence of South Lakeland’s economic strengths. We have already been ranked as Cumbria’s fastest growing economy and one of the most vibrant economies in the North West.”

However, South Lakeland did not see the biggest growth in the value of tourism in 2018.

That went to Eden, which saw an 8.6 per cent increase, nudging is neighbour in to second. Meanwhile, Barrow saw a growth of 4.2 per cent and Copeland 4.1 per cent.

Both districts are currently developing plans to increase visitor numbers and the value of tourism.

A new Tourism Task Force is set to develop ways it can lure more visitors through both the Lake District and Morecambe Bay brands – building on its already hugely successful business tourism industry, fuelled largely by the BAE Systems Submarines facility in Barrow.

Copeland is also eyeing a bigger share of the visitor economy, as home to huge sections of the Lake District National Park, which was awarded World Heritage Site status in 2017.