Wiltshire's £1.5 billion tourism industry, which pre-pandemic supported 28,000 jobs, could benefit from a boom in domestic tourism this summer according to the government's tourism minister.
Nigel Huddleston was speaking at an online launch of the five-year review of the Great West Way, the touring route between London and Bristol.
Admitting it had been an “incredibly difficult year for the entire tourism sector,” the MP said he was "optimistic about the future."
And he said a new government tourism recovery plan would aim to "stimulate consumer demand" and "look at reducing barriers to travel."
"We know there is pent up demand domestically and from overseas for when we can reopen," he said.
VisitEngland chief executive Sally Balcombe said the body would be concentrating on domestic tourism first, with international tourism to follow.
But she warned tourism businesses not to expect an influx of tourists from May 17, the earliest date from which international travel will be permitted, according to the government's roadmap.
"There are concerns about cases in Europe and new variants and I suspect when we open up it will be done in a measured way," she said.
The award-winning Great West Way was funded by the £45.5 million Discover England Fund five years ago.
Originally envisaged as a branding exercise for the A4 – Britain's answer to America's famous Route 66 – the idea was extended to incorporate railway travel, waterways, cycling, and walking.
Two railway routes go north through Swindon and Chippenham, and south via Pewsey, Westbury, Trowbridge, and Bradford on Avon and passing close to the tourism Mecca of Stonehenge.
Meanwhile, the Kennet and Avon Canal offers canal boat touring alongside walking and cycling on its towpath, passing through Pewsey, Devizes – with the famous Caen Hill lock flight – and Bradford on Avon.
The road route passes through Marlborough, the Avebury World Heritage Site, Calne, Chippenham, and Corsham.
According to the review, the Great West Way now has 82 official tour operator partners, 1,800 engaged tourism businesses along the route, and 200 businesses using the Great West Way branding.
David Andrews, director of the Great West Way, said: “This review launch has been an opportunity for us to reflect on just how much the Great West Way has achieved along its journey so far.
"As is evident from the support outlined in the review, the Great West Way tourism corridor has an important role to play in the country’s national tourism recovery.”
“It’s more important now than ever to work together in partnership, developing new bookable experiences, maximising our sustainable tourism potential, and supporting destinations and businesses along the Great West Way.”
Launched to coincide with the five-year review was a new Great West Way Guide to the Kennet & Avon Canal in partnership with Canal & River Trust and Kennet & Avon Trade Association.
Richard Parry, chief executive, of the Canal & River Trust said: “The popular Kennet & Avon Canal is a key element of the Great West Way - a ‘slow travel’ mode of exploration, offering all the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time on, or by, water, taking people to the many attractions along its length.
"As people emerge from lockdown, they might be thinking about taking a holiday, booking a short break or simply seeking a change of scenery.
"The Kennet & Avon Canal offers a relaxing way to explore the London to Bristol route and we hope visitors might find the map both inspiring and useful.”
100,000 copies of the canal guide will be distributed.
The Great West Way will be heavily promoted by tourism bosses this Spring, as part of VisitEngland's Escape The Everyday At Home campaign.
The five-year review – The Journey so Far and the Way Ahead – can be viewed at https://online.flipbuilder.com/fkef/deuz/mobile/index.html
A digital version of the Kennet & Avon Canal map can be accessed at www.GreatWestWay.co.uk/explore/maps
Silbury Hill on the Great West Way. Image courtesy of Tom Bowerman / Great West Way