Gary Verity: Pull together to reap the benefits of tourism

THIS week, Welcome to Yorkshire and Yorkshire Forward jointly agreed a £10m funding deal for our work up to April 2012. It brings to an end a period of uncertainty, and is an affirmation of the important role tourism will play in the county's future.

It means we can continue to make a significant impact through high-profile marketing campaigns which drive increasing numbers of visitors here. It also gives the organisation a sound springboard from which to launch a new funding model for the future.

We've always said that we would need at least five years of high-profile marketing to achieve a step change in the fortunes of the county's tourism industry, and to ensure that the rest of the country, and indeed the world, sees Yorkshire as a vibrant and contemporary place to visit.

We have no intention of reining-in or scaling back the scope of our projects or the size of our ambition for Yorkshire as we continue to buck the national trend in terms of visitor numbers, but beyond 2012 we will need everyone's help to do this. Replacing millions of pounds a year of public funding is no mean task, but we're determined to achieve just that. The importance of this is illustrated by our success over the past two years. Since Welcome to Yorkshire was formed, tourism has been a growth industry locally.

Four thousand new jobs have been created and income has risen from 5.9bn to 7bn – an increase in excess of one billion pounds. In an economic downturn, we have become the most influential tourism agency in the UK. Yorkshire is definitely on tourism's top table now, back where it belongs.

We can better this, however.

I believe we can grow tourism to 10bn in the next decade, potentially more, but we need to work together and fast.

Yorkshire is at its strongest when it is united in a single goal. Welcome to Yorkshire is a simple message that most of the county can easily get behind, whether involved in tourism, or in wider business or public sector activity.

My vision for the future is this: one strong organisation, with countywide business support, backed by national and countywide public funding, all contributing, all with the same aim – to protect, promote and grow the Yorkshire brand. That is the level of funding we need to keep the profile of Yorkshire as high as it has been of late, and I believe it is in the interests of the whole business community to make sure we can do that.

In other parts of the country, big business has already started to contribute towards this sort of promotional activity, in some cases with six-figure sums.

They recognise the benefits that projecting a confident and attractive locality can bring in terms of a competitive edge when it comes to inward investment and attracting young professionals to relocate and bring their skills to the area. We already have several thousand businesses who work in direct partnership with Welcome to Yorkshire, paying an annual subscription and benefiting from marketing and PR opportunities, as well as product and skills development to keep them ahead of the game.

Many of them are seeing their businesses grow and prosper and recognise the huge benefits they can get by being part of specific marketing campaigns, like our very successful Yorkshire Gardens campaign. We aim to double that membership base, with a strong call to action to tourism businesses to collaborate more strongly with us and each other to offer even better experiences to our visitors.

All of our marketing drives visitors to Yorkshire.com and there has been an enormous increase in traffic in the past year. I believe there are huge opportunities for local authorities and others promoting individual places to take advantage of this portal, and get far greater exposure for their locality than they can currently achieve by individual websites.

It would undoubtedly raise their profile and probably save considerable funds at a time when many local authorities are facing really difficult choices. Already two local authorities are working with us on just this. It would also help ensure that a strong Yorkshire.com can be maintained for marketing the county.

I appreciate that times are tough for everyone. We all face mounting monetary pressures in our daily lives and these will impact on many of the county's businesses.

Rising fuel prices are already having an effect on rural firms dependent on diesel, and the historically low interest rates we have enjoyed for almost two years may be coming to an end. Hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of pounds a year will be added to household budgets. These are inescapable truths.

Running a business in 2011/12 will get much harder financially unless you can bring more business through your doors. That is the challenge facing everyone associated with tourism in Yorkshire. It is one that we must meet head-on.

Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.