BOURNEMOUTH’S director of tourism – whose achievements include devising the town’s air festival – is to stand down after 15 years.

Mark Smith is making way for a new person to take the “best job in the country” as head of tourism for both Bournemouth and Poole.

The neighbouring councils are merging their tourism departments and will appoint a resort director.

Mr Smith said: “This will be the best job in the country, no doubt about it. There’s nowhere that has this wonderful area and this range of stuff to look after.”

His years in the town have seen the creation of the two Business Improvement Districts and the National Coastal Tourism Academy. Millions of pounds have invested in hotels, attractions and public spaces, while the tourism industry helped fight off plans for an offshore windfarm.

Mr Smith’s experience working in Eastbourne gave him the idea for the air festival, which has dawn millions of visitors over the past decade.

Mr Smith, 61, who is also chairman of Tourism South East, said he had decided not to seek the new job of resort director.

“Tourism is a long term business, done well. If you’re in it just for one or two years, you’re in the wrong business,” he said.

“I think it needs people who have a horizon that says we want to make this good for the next generation.”

He said he hoped to find more time for hobbies including sailing and golf.

Mr Smith came to Bournemouth in 2002 after experience in Winchester, Eastbourne and with British Airways.

He said he was impressed by the way council departments had managed in the face of significant cuts in government funding, “I’ve got a lot of admiration for the way they’ve coped with that,” he said.

“I just feel privileged to work in a place like this and have so committed people in such a wonderful area.”

Mike Francis, president of Bournemouth Tourism Management Board – which was set up during Mr Smith’s tenure – said: “We’re going to be very sorry when Mark goes.

“He’s brought to us an optimism and breadth of knowledge of tourism, particularly coastal tourism around England, that we didn’t really have before.

“That optimism has encouraged so many traders over the years to come and join the board.”