As an industry that is worth £3bn to the Cumbrian economy, the tourism sector needs good leaders and experienced people to lobby on its behalf.

This is why Jim Walker is a deserved winner of the Lifetime Contribution to Cumbria award at the in-Cumbria Business Awards 2022.

Jim, 65, has spent his career working with some of the county’s best known tourist attractions and standing up for the sector’s interests through his various roles at Cumbria Tourism and Eden Tourism Network.

“My whole career to date has been a joy, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he says.

Jim grew up in Darlington and began working in hospitality as a student in Scotland’s Hebrides.

He enjoyed the experience so much that he studied for a postgraduate tourism qualification in Manchester.

As part of the course he did a placement at Cumbria Tourist Board in 1980.

“I just loved my time in Cumbria and the placement was a real privilege,” remembers Jim.

This began the ball rolling in his career in tourism, which included stints working as administrator and assistant warden at Rydal Hall Christian Conference Centre and then 15 years at South Lakeland District Council finishing as head of cultural and tourism services.

“That involved not only looking after all the tourism services but managing recreation and leisure, the arts, museums and Windermere lake,” he says.

“It was a broad portfolio and the leisure section of the council was run by an innovative, motivated group of people who were keen to achieve.”

In 2002 Jim was appointed chief executive of Lake District Estates, the family company founded by Lord Wakefield.

During his 13 years there the company grew considerably to incorporate businesses including Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway (aka the La’al Ratty) and Ullswater Steamers. In addition, the company also owns a number of letting properties, as well as the county’s four Peter Rabbit and Friends shops and a number of holiday parks.

"It was a fascinating role, operating businesses on a day-to-day basis and dealing with strategic development," he says.

"We were able to achieve things quite quickly with a lot of support from the family members."

When Jim stepped down he was retained as a consultant on a part-time basis, this included providing vital help in the wake of Storm Desmond in December 2015.

In 2017 Jim - who was already a director of Cumbria Tourism - became its interim managing director for three months between the tenures of Ian Stephens and Gill Haigh.

He was also chair of the organisation from July 2019 to this summer when he became its president. He is also the current transport portfolio holder for Cumbria Tourism.

"The pandemic has been a massive challenge to all of us and I think Cumbria Tourism really worked hard in that time and achieved a lot," he says.

"I think Cumbria Tourism has become respected nationally as a destination management organisation and I'm very honoured to continue working for it.

“That work has involved lobbying MPs to get across the issues facing the industry.

“I think it’s essential that you have people working as directors in Cumbria Tourism who have industry knowledge. You want people in positions of responsibility who speak for the industry and that speak with authority.”

Alongside his work for Cumbria Tourism, Jim also helped found the Eden Tourism Network in 2012. Jim chairs the network, which is made up of tourism operators in the district who work closely with the council to influence its work.

He says the tourism industry needs strong leadership now more than ever, as well as effective voices lobbying on its behalf.

"There are still a lot of issues in terms of labour supply, the supply chain and getting some goods and services too,” he says.

“As a result, our industry is having to be incredibly creative and incredibly flexible to continue to operate profitably against a very difficult backdrop.

“The only predictable thing now is the unpredictability that is ahead of us.”

However, he says the resolve and determination of those involved in the sector is its great strength.

"Our industry is populated by the most energetic, creative, passionate people who are determined to find a way through and come out of the other side of it smiling and thriving and flourishing," he says.

"I would argue the scale of the challenges is bigger than ever before, but I'm confident the industry will come through. That positivity comes from understanding that Cumbria is just the most beautiful place. The pandemic taught us that we need to enjoy the outdoors and we need to keep our mental health well and Cumbria offers such a great opportunity for this.

"There are signs of growth and development and people investing heavily in their product and in their operations to offer the best possible experiences to customers. There's lots of optimism and lots of exciting times ahead.”

He says he is very pleased the “attract and disperse” policy being promoted by Cumbria Tourism and others is encouraging people to explore parts of the county beyond the central and southern Lake District.

"Because nationally we're facing such a difficult economic crisis we need people to spend locally and what better way is there than asking visitors to come and support our economy and protect those services that we as residents all use on a day-to-day basis.”

Ultimately, Jim says the award is recognition of all those who have worked with him during his career.

"I think it's really important to say that although the award is an amazing compliment, when you get an award like this you've only achieved it because of the support you've had through your working life and the colleagues who helped you to achieve the profile and success you have,” he says.

“It's not an award just for me, it's an award for the whole industry that works so closely together and the people that helped me in my journey.

"Also I think it's a really good opportunity to flag up the amazing opportunities for careers in this industry. It is such an incredible industry, where you can grow quickly in your career.

“A lot of people learn fast and you can take responsibility in terms of managing and looking after amazing staff teams and resources. That's a huge privilege that's been one of the highlights of my work.”