SCORES of businesses in the North York Moors National Park are in line for an economic boost thanks to a new initiative being funded by the European Union and the park authority.

The aim, said chief executive Andy Wilson, is to reverse the decline in the number of visitors to the vast parkland and to help tourism businesses create new products.

The EU’s LEADER fund, which helps rural areas, is giving £36,000 and the park will match the sum with £24,000 and “in kind” support.

Mr Wilson said: “It will help tourism businesses persuade visitors to stay longer and spend more money. It will also raise the profile of the wider North York Moors area including the Howardian Hills and parts of Ryedale,” he said.

A total of 6.3 million tourists visit the national park every year and spend £434 million. However, said Mr Wilson, in recent years there has been a drop of five per cent in visitor numbers – 350,000 people.

“The park authority hopes the project will help boost visitor numbers.”

The scheme is being supported by Hambleton and Ryedale district councils, Scarborough Borough Council, the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Redcar and Cleveland Council.

Mr Wilson said businesses were being invited to marketing workshops and added: “The project is focussed on helping tourism, creative, retail, food and drink businesses to develop their own products and improve their marketing using insider knowledge about what makes the park distinctive and worth visiting.”

Hidden heritage gems, local legends, special places in the park, together with its traditional food will be promoted, said Mr Wilson.

“National parks are an international brand. The words ‘national park’ attract tourists.”

But the North York Moors is less well known than The Lakes and The Dales, a situation which the authority aims to redress, he said.

“The new management plan for the North York Moors establishes that we should try to tackle these issues.

“We hope to do many other things to promote the park area during the next few years and to do them in a way which respects the special qualities of the park.”

Susan Briggs, director of Tourism Network, is helping to deliver the new project. A marketing consultant, she said: “This is an exciting new venture because it builds on an important market development.”