Choose Yorkshire! Building back tourism to be greener, fairer and stronger.

22 September 2020
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James Mason, Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire gives his support to the vision of a carbon negative, greener, fairer and stronger economy.

Joining Welcome to Yorkshire in January 2020, I was determined to rebuild and rejuvenate the brand, our relationships with our partners and our vision, to celebrate Yorkshire as a place, not only to visit, but also to live, work and study. It had to become less about Welcome to Yorkshire and more about Yorkshire and the stories of our world class county.

Then, along came COVID. Although I had anticipated challenges coming into this role, I had not thought that a national lockdown would force us to ask people to stay away from the region. This was hard but necessary.

Tourism has been hit incredibly hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic. Entering lockdown in March, businesses had their livelihoods pulled from underneath them. Rebuilding tourism with resilience will require investment and support from government, strategic marketing and longer-term thinking.

Collaboration is crucial and we’re building stronger, proactive relationships with all four of Yorkshire’s local enterprise partnerships. Working with the LEPs we can shore up the economic focus of tourism recovery, bring people and investment into the region and support businesses through the incredible challenges they face.

The York and North Yorkshire LEP has long recognised the significance of investment in the tourism infrastructure. Through the European funded, rural development programme almost £10m has been invested in tourism and food businesses in the last five years, sectors with a strong interdependence. Support for tourism businesses specifically, is coming online in the next couple of months through their Growth Hub.

Our focus needs to be on marketing the region with strategies that leverage our significant reach and data driven audience insight. Whilst we work at that macro-level, the localised and unique USP of the region’s many places will solidify the quality of our offer. We can only market Yorkshire successfully by working well with local partners.

For Yorkshire tourism, our strength is in the diversity of unique products right across the county, but particularly in York and North Yorkshire. The region has something for every demographic, every budget and every taste, 12 months of the year. City breaks, coastal and countryside walks, shopping, Michelin star food, family attractions, heritage, culture and arts – everything that anyone could want within short journey times.

Embracing positive reports of an almost 75% return to pre-COVID footfall, the City of York is working with wider regional attractions, such as the North York Moors National Park, seeking to extend visitor stays by celebrating diversity and uniqueness in both ‘Only in York’ and ‘Beyond York’ offers. Like us, the city’s primary audience is their residents, then reaching out to regional visitors, offering them opportunities to try new things in the place they call home.

Similarly, on the coast, work is taking place to engage residents in a unique experience of nature tourism. ‘Wild Eye’, a project that has received funding in the Scarborough and Whitby town deal bids, combines world-class sculpture with nature observation.

Projects like these strengthen our offer to national and international audiences. With York’s compact scale and the Wild Eye project connecting walking routes along the coast, Welcome to Yorkshire’s ‘Walkshire’ campaign for 2021 will succeed by localised amplification as it aims to confirm Yorkshire as the walking capital of the world. Encouraging people to walk is as much from a public health initiative as it is a marketing strategy. The good news is that the numbers add up – as walkers spend, eat, drink more and stay longer.

Throughout COVID-19, we have learned just how vital a function tourism plays in the nation’s well-being. Without it, we are mentally, physically and culturally bereft. The arts, heritage, hospitality and the great outdoors all play a vital role in our health and happiness.

Tourism in Yorkshire is an essential addition to a stronger economy. We need to reassess the significance of the £9bn sector. With its vast and complex supply chains and considerable employment opportunities, tourism breathes life into local communities. Whilst we market Yorkshire as the best place in the UK to visit, there is work to be done to ensure people understand the benefits of studying, working and living here. By attracting such an audience, we are strengthening a pool of people that will spend their disposable income and time in the region.

Yorkshire has an ability to secure itself, at home, in the hearts of people who have lived or visited the county. Currently, our newly launched personal membership scheme offers advocates of Yorkshire from all across the world the opportunity to plant a tree in the region through Yorkshire.com/membership.

Not only will this support York and North Yorkshire’s vision of a carbon negative, greener, fairer and stronger economy, it will enable us to give people the roots that can encourage them to return again and again, to God’s Own County.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire post here.

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