We're worlds ahead; agenda Gateshead has been chosen alongside some holiday heavyweights to host a heat of next year's World Travel Awards. Rhodri Phillips looks at what the accolade will mean for the North-East.
IT may not boast a coastline, a landscape dotted with palm trees or an average annual temperature higher than 40iC, but as a global tourism destination, Gateshead has arrived.
The home of icons such as the Angel of the North, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Millennium Bridge was last night unveiled as the venue for the European heat of the World Travel Awards.
It joins three major tourist destinations also hosting the heats - the American city of Miami, the exotic Indonesian island of Bali and the desert city of Abu Dhabi in the Middle East.
The final will be held on Turks and Caicos, a Caribbean island, which basks in year-round sunshine.
So, how did the Tyneside borough, famed for its ham and pease pudding stotties and with an average temperature of just 11C, get to join such illustrious company?
One answer came yesterday from the President of the World Travel Awards, who hailed our "famous North-East hospitality".
And Stacey Hall, director of communications at regional development agency One NorthEast, said: "It is a huge coup for Gateshead and the North-East.
"We weren't just up against other UK destinations to host the event. The competition was European-wide.
"The event provides the region with a valuable opportunity to demonstrate in exuberant style why it has become a serious contender in the tourism industry and is fast gaining a reputation as a must-see destination."
The World Travel Awards have been held since 1993, but this is the first time regional heats have been organised in the run-up to the final.
The awards recognise the best of the global travel industry - including the top hotels, airlines and travel agents - and the North-East has been a winner at the last two finals, for its 'Passionate people. Passionate places.' campaign.
The European heat of the awards will be held at The Sage Gateshead on October 9 next year, with more than 500 travel professionals expected to attend.
Ms Hall said: "We have been successful in the world awards for two years running. To now win this opportunity to host the new European awards is further recognition of the region's standing within the travel industry and an accolade of which we can all be proud.
"The awards will bring hundreds of travel professionals to Gateshead and we hope to showcase the region to them - the cities, the coast, the countryside - over a weekend.
"The impact on the region's economy over the weekend will be sizeable, but there is significant potential for there to be a lasting impact if the tourism professionals who visit the region go away and sing its praises."
The Middle East and Africa heat in Abu Dhabi takes place from March 27 to 29 next year, the Americas event in Miami will be held between June 17 and 19, and Bali will host the Asia, Indian Ocean and Australasia leg from September 25 to 28. The final will then be held in the Caribbean on December 12.
The Sage Gateshead's General Director Anthony Sargent said: "Increasingly, the international facilities of The Sage Gateshead are enabling the region to capture major world events that haven't previously been here. It is a real coup for the region."
NewcastleGateshead Initiative Chief Executive Andrew Dixon said the region was now recognised as a "world-class leisure and conference destination".
President of the World Travel Awards Graham Cooke said the 'Passionate people. Passionate places.' campaign had played a major role in raising the region's profile.
He said: "I am looking forward to making the first European leg of the World Travel Awards a highly memorable event, brimming with that famous North-East hospitality."
The Magic City of Miami
MIAMI nicknamed 'The Magic City', is situated in south-eastern Florida.
The city, which has an average temperature of 24iC, is famous for its beaches and has been immortalised in the TV series and film Miami Vice.
It is the 46th biggest city in the USA, with a population of about 400,000.
It is a thriving musical city, which has played a major role in the evolution of hip-hop since the 1980s.
Miami Beach is home to the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, and is listed on America's Register of Historic Places.
Tropical paradise on Bali
BALI, which lies just to the south of the equator, has an average annual temperature of 27iC.
It is the only Indonesian island which has Hinduism as its main religion, and is a centre for the arts, particularly dancing and sculpture.
In spring, the Hindu new year, Nyepi, is celebrated on the island with a day of silence. On the preceding day, large sculptures of monsters are paraded through the streets and burned in the evening to drive away evil spirits.
About three million people live on Bali. The coastal town of Kuta is popular with tourists. It was rocked on October 12, 2002, by a car bomb, which killed 202 people.
Rich city in the desert
ABU Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, enjoys an average annual temperature of more than 40iC.
On the downside sandstorms are not uncommon.
The ex-pat community makes up about 80% of Abu Dhabi's 1.85 million population.
Many international oil companies have offices in the city and tower blocks dominate its skyline.
The city is responsible for generating 70% of its country's wealth.
Work is under way on a pounds 28bn cultural district on the city's Saadiyat Island, which will include a pounds 250m Guggenheim Museum.
A CAMPAIGN which features the North-East's leading landmarks alongside some of its most famous faces has been a winner at the world tourism awards for the last two years.
The 'Passionate people. Passionate places' series of adverts was launched in May 2005 and was named the World's Leading Regional Marketing Campaign at that year's awards.
It won the title for the second time in September this year, beating off competition from India, the Canary Islands, Australia, Malaysia, the United States, France and Ger many.
Among the icons featured in the campaign are the Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside, Durham Cathedral and Hadrian's Wall.
GATESHEAD has a population of 190,000 and an average annual temperature of about 11iC.
The borough's Quayside has undergone a remarkable change in the last ten years.
It is home to icons such as the award-winning Millennium Bridge and The Sage Gateshead, a concert hall and conference centre, which opened in December 2004.
Local specialities include the ham and pease pudding stottie. Iconic drink Newcastle Brown Ale has been brewed in the borough's Federation Brewery since May last year.
Gateshead also has its own international athletics stadium which regularly hosts top-flight meetings.
LANDMARKS: The famous sights of the Angel of the North and The Sage Gateshead which are receiving international attention.