A study on the importance of tourism says the value of the industry to the North-East economy is £1.8bn.

Minister for Tourism Dr Kim Howells revealed the figure yesterday as part of the findings of a study commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and regional development agency One NorthEast.

As the first of its type to be attempted in the UK, the assessment is the most accurate and detailed to be carried out into the economic benefits of visitors to the region.

The study reveals that despite the blows of foot-and-mouth disease and the September 11 attacks on the US - about 50,000 North-East jobs are supported by tourism, with a further 50,000 relying on its economic spin-offs.

In total, these jobs account for almost ten per cent of the regional workforce.

Following the study's publication, One NorthEast and Northumbria Tourist Board have pledged to spend the next 100 days working with other regional partners on a framework for a new strategy and action plan.

They aim to deliver this from next April, by which time One NorthEast will have taken over responsibility for strategic tourism development.

Dr John Bridge, chairman of One NorthEast, said: "The headline figures for the North-East highlighted what has been assumed, but in the past not accurately measured - that the indirect impacts of tourism are equally as important as the direct.

"With this new information to hand, we can be confident in moving forward to bring about a step change in the industry to meet its full potential."

The pilot study, conducted by consultants at Trends Business Research and Cogentsi, estimates the value of tourism from both the demand and supply sides.

It is expected to pave the way for other regional development agencies to commission similar studies. These would provide a national picture of the value of tourism, and allow comparisons within and across regions.

If the Newcastle/ Gateshead bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008 succeeds, it is estimated that the region will gain 17,000 jobs and four million visitors