This is the presentation (plus a little additional detail) I gave at today's Together Yorkshire event, considering what the Yorkshire Leaders Board can pursue their remit for Yorkshire Tourism.
I’ve worked in tourism for over 30 years and am passionate about Yorkshire Tourism. I work both strategically and tactically. I’ve helped to set up, run, improve and demolish destination management organisations across the country so think I can see some solutions for our regional body.
I don’t think everyone will be aware of the many layers of work taking place in tourism marketing and management, beyond the more public Welcome to Yorkshire activity. As an example, I’m currently working on different strategies for the Yorkshire Dales, Scarborough Borough Council, and the North York Moors National Park, but also work at grass roots level with just over 2000 tourism businesses. I run networks and destination partnerships and offer direct and practical business advice. I think out of all the speakers today I’m the one with the dirtiest hands, working at the ‘sharp end’ of the industry. I've given these examples of what I do because I'm going to make some strong statements. They're based on genuine understanding and knowledge of the tourism industry.
Even before Covid I was convinced that the Yorkshire visitor economy was massively under-performing.
Covid has obviously had a major impact. Thanks to Rishi’s Dishes and the staycation effect there has been some bounce back, particularly for rural and coastal areas. Cities are still struggling. Overseas visits to Yorkshire were already down by and it’s going to take a while for some markets like the USA to come back. Two of our biggest markets – Poland and Ireland - will come back quicker than Germany and France. Over 40% of our overseas visitors come to visit friends and relatives so any domestic marketing will have an overseas effect too.
Looking to the future, we need to take strong action now to secure the industry, and significantly increase revenue. The figure of the tourism industry being worth £9 billion is often used, but that figure is not robust. We need proper research – it’s incredible that so much has already been invested with so little data about the effectiveness of public funding, and there’s so little collated market knowledge.
I said the Yorkshire tourism industry is under-performing. Here are some of the reasons:
1) many decisions about Yorkshire tourism activity and funding have been taken without deep knowledge of the industry – decisions don’t always reflect business needs or the way the market really works;
2) we’re not looking at how we can actually increase spend by each current and future visitor;
3) there’s significant excess capacity during peak season in accommodation, attractions and hospitality– we need more targeted and sophisticated marketing; and
4) we’ve just accepted that the off peak period runs from October to March. This has to change and it’s something I’m currently doing a lot of work on.
The market has changed. Peer to peer influence, particularly through social media means that official channels are no longer important. Different approaches are needed.
Visitors increasingly want more recommendations from locals and those who really know their area. Local networks, and low cost, grass roots marketing have become more important and effective.
We need to recognise that Yorkshire tourism is driven by many different types of organisation, and businesses, large and small. We’re not asking vital questions such as what kind of tourism we want? How can we make tourism more sustainable? When and where do we most need visitors? What kind of visitor? How can we increase revenue?
We need an overall strategy for Yorkshire tourism, developed collaboratively by industry insiders who know the area and understand market needs.
We need to acknowledge that Welcome to Yorkshire is just one part of this. It can’t and shouldn't try to do everything. It can be a shop window and a lobbying force. Other organisations need to perform other functions. Screen Yorkshire has had an incredible and ongoing impact on Yorkshire Tourism. The collective impact of many grass roots organisations is not always recognised, and they’re under-funded despite strong support from and for businesses.
We need to stop thinking the question is ‘should WTY be funded or not’. The question should be what are we all trying to achieve? What do we want WTY to do and what do we want other organisations and businesses to do? How can we harness the power and passion of area networks?
I've posed a lot of questions. After so long in the industry, they're easy to answer. At various times I've offered (pro bono) to help local authorities and other organisations to answer them. Some want to know the answers and solutions. Some aren't even recognising that we need to ask the questions.
There are many private sector individuals like myself, with deep and intimate knowledge of the industry who can offer practical, market-led solutions but our expertise isn’t being put to full use. Our industry is under-performing. We’d like an opportunity to put that right.
Huge sums of public money are being spent. Surely now is the time to genuinely understand the return on investment and make public funding work harder? This public funding is intended to benefit the tourism industry and the private sector, to grow the value of the visitor economy, yet decisions continue to be taken behind closed doors with too little input from those the investment is intended to benefit.
Susan Briggs/24th September 2020
I've worked in tourism marketing for over 30 years, developing strategies & practical solutions for accommodation, attractions, activity providers, food & drink businesses. These are some of the tourism industry issues I'm concerned about. I'm writing here about Yorkshire but most of the issues are relevant elsewhere.