A TEENAGE museum apprentice has been named County Durham’s first Tourism Superstar.
Mr Henderson clinched the inaugural award, created to showcase the best in customer service on offer to visitors to County Durham, from a ten-strong shortlist in a public telephone poll which received nearly 1,000 votes.
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The 19-year-old, from Witton-le-Wear, near Bishop Auckland, said: “It’s unreal. I’m overwhelmed.
“I was very surprised even to be shortlisted. Beamish has done lots for me, so it’s a nice thank you for them.”
Mr Henderson started helping out at the museum three years ago. He is studying an apprenticeship with Gateshead College.
He was nominated by Jacki Winstanley, a colleague at Beamish, who said each day at the open air museum near Stanley brought a new challenge and he rose to it every time.
Mr Henderson beat off competition from finalists including Durham Pointers co-ordinator Esther Ashby, Blue Badge Guide co-ordinator Jan Williams, and Doe Park Caravan Site owner Alison Lamb.
Melanie Sensicle, chief executive of Visit County Durham, congratulated all the finalists.
“The calibre of nominations was extremely high and they are all wonderful ambassadors for the county.
“We had a fantastic response from the public who really got on board and engaged with the voting.
“It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the people on the frontline of the visitor experience here in Durham and who help make it such a superb destination.”
Mr Henderson was also congratulated by James Berresford, chief executive of Visit England.
“Matthew’s success outlines the importance of apprenticeships within the tourism industry and the opportunities there are for young people to join an exciting industry,” he said.
Mr Henderson will now compete in Visit England’s National Tourism Superstar contest.
More than 17 million people visited County Durham in 2012 and tourism is worth £708 million to the county’s economy, supporting more than 10,000 jobs.
The County Durham’s Tourism Superstar award was run by Visit County Durham, in association with Visit England and The Northern Echo.