Bernard Ginns: Yorkshire seen as more friendly, beautiful and engaged after Tour triumph

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THE SPECTACLE of thousands upon thousands of people crowded on the top of Buttertubs Pass to cheer on a lone man lost in labour was almost biblical in resonance.

That man was Jens Voigt, later crowned King of the Mountain in the first stage of the Tour de France and that moment was my personal highlight of an extraordinary weekend.

For most of us, I suspect the Tour de Yorkshire surpassed all expectations.

Hopes were high; I awoke in the early hours of Saturday morning to the sound of heavy rain falling and thought the opening day would be spoilt.

Any anxieties soon disappeared and the glorious sunshine that shone over God’s Own County through Saturday and Sunday was a tempting sign that the event was blessed.

Gary Verity, the tourism chief who made it possible, wanted to create for Yorkshire an equivalent of the Commonwealth Games hosted by Manchester in 2002. He said: “I think that gave them the confidence and chutzpah and the whole attitude ‘the answer’s yes, now what’s the question?’”

Verity boldly promised the grandest of Grand Departs and, according to race supremo Christian Prudhomme, he delivered.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the head of global advertising giant WPP, told me that Yorkshire’s successful hosting “does demonstrate the power of global or international events in changing images and perceptions and motivating people”.

He said Yorkshire did “very, very well, an added dimension... but there again I’ve always been a Yorkshire fan - Hutton, Boycott, Trueman, Watson, Wardle”.

Asked about the way in which the world might view Yorkshire as a place after this weekend, Sir Martin said: “Better! More friendly, beautiful and engaged.”

His agency - the world’s largest communications services group - reckons that the splash from the Grand Depart was much greater than could be foreseen even despite the World Cup, Wimbledon and Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the British Grand Prix.

WPP calculates that the total equivalent advertising spend from the opening weekend would exceed £31m. The total cost to the taxpayer of hosting the Tour is estimated at £27m.

WPP said: “It is also worth noting that the value of the positive media will be relatively modest in comparison with the overall economic impact to Yorkshire driven by the visitor influx and hotel/tourism spend - the weather helped massively with this no doubt on the days - as well as indigenous Yorkshire celebrations. These seemed to far surpass already ambitious hopes and expectations.

“Anyway the UK media loved the human interest, gritty Yorkshire vs Gallic sophistication angle – the Sunday front pages were a good example.”

The challenge ahead for Yorkshire’s public and private sector is to build on the momentum and make sure the gains are lasting.

Tom Vosa, chief economist at Yorkshire Bank, said the Grand Depart in itself was never going to be enough to give a sustained boost to international tourism in Yorkshire - “we need the various bodies to do more to promote it, including the status of regional airports” - but the event was a very good start and was very impressive.

He added that the impact on growth will be small as effectively Yorkshire has attracted tourist money that will not be spent elsewhere.

“Nonetheless, a small positive boost is always welcome as the recovery continues and a boost to growth outside London and the South East chimes with the new regional development agendas that all main political parties seem to be slowly converging on,” said Mr Vosa, who is head of market economics, Europe, at National Australia Bank.

In the meantime, the region can bask in the glow of national and international admiration. And Mr Verity - who should feature in the New Year’s Honours List 2015 - can enjoy a well-earned break.