TOURISM in Essex is set to get a “significant boost” after a group led by Colchester’s Firstsite art centre won nearly £300,000 of funding.

The consortium aims to raise the profile of the county’s arts scene and to make it the UK’s premier tourist destination.

The group, which includes the Focal Point Gallery, in Southend, Essex County Council, Colchester Council and Southend Council, has been handed £292,500 by the Arts Council and Visit England.

Matthew Rowe, Firstsite director, said: “It is a significant boost to the Essex tourism economy.

“It is good for tourist attractions and it’s good for businesses and we hope it will kick-start our plans.”

During the next year, some of the cash will be spent on researching the cultural tourism market, including finding out how people travel to Essex, where they like to eat and drink and what they like to see.

By March 2015, Mr Rowe wants a website to be up and running, which allows tourists to plan their trip to Essex.

In the third year, the group aims to make sure any increase in the tourismmarket is sustainable and long-lasting.

Mr Rowe added: “Through this award, there is a wonderful opportunity to help shape the future of tourism in Essex through contemporary culture, helping to reposition Essex as a premier tourist destination.”

The Essex bid is one of ten successful projects allocated funding, as part of the £3million Cultural Destinations programme.

Joe Hill, interim director at Focal Point Gallery, said: “We are really excited to be leading this new project alongside Firstsite.

“We look forward to further developing the cultural profile of the region, through engagement with contemporary art.

“The opportunity to work closer with local businesses to attract new audiences is warmly welcomed and we are keen to get started on the range of campaigns and research this funding will make possible.”

Hedley Swain, south east director of Arts Council England, added: “The contemporary culture showcased by both venues will provide an excellent platform from which a new and exciting dimension can be added to Essex’s tourism sector.

“We look forward to seeing the project bring more visitors to the area and boost the local economy as it begins to flourish.”