TOURISM leaders have claimed shoppers are shunning the internet with a desire to support the beleaguered High Street as one of the nation’s most popular destinations has seen a wave of visitors in the run-up to Christmas.
A major marketing campaign to attract more shoppers to York throughout the festive season appears to be paying dividends with visitors travelling from across Europe and Britain.
And senior officials at the Visit York tourism partnership have claimed calls by retail guru Mary Portas for the public to cherish their High Streets are also helping lure people into shops rather than buy online.
The revelations that the Amazon internet shopping site is the latest enterprise to take advantage of financial loopholes to avoid paying tax have also compounded the desire of shoppers to turn back to the traditional High Street stores. Amazon’s UK website reported a turnover of £207m for 2011 but its tax expense was just £1.8m.
Tourism has emerged as the bedrock of York’s economy, and the city has attempted to carve out a niche during the festive season by laying claim to being the most Christmas-themed city in the UK.
Visit York’s chief executive, Gillian, Cruddas, said: “There seems to be a general mood in the country for supporting independent retailers and local produce and visitors are flocking from across Britain and overseas to shop in York because we have something very special here.
“Early signs for Christmas are that trade is good, hotel occupancy is holding strong and the programme of events for visitors just gets better and better.”
The Yorkshire Post revealed in November that a marketing drive had been launched to ensure York can compete with rival destinations such as Milan, Paris and Germany which are seen as more traditional winter break hotspots.
More than 320 coachloads of visitors came to York from Ireland and the Netherlands as well as from across the UK for the St Nicholas Fayre which was organised by York Council at the start of December.
Tourism leaders claimed that retailers had reported trade was “very good” despite the city enduring the latest severe flooding while the event was staged.
Online hotel bookings through Visit York are up by nearly a third in September to November when compared with the same period last year, and tourism leaders are hopeful that the trend will continue.
The council has also introduced free parking in York while stores are open into the evening on Thursdays ahead of Christmas in a bid to lure more shoppers into the city centre.
The charm offensive to bring more visitors to the city in the run-up to Christmas will see a major advertising campaign extended to London in key railway and underground stations including Paddington, Euston and Victoria.
Four state-of-the-art 3D screens will also be erected in Covent Garden, each playing 15 second adverts promoting short breaks in York.
Visit York’s winter campaign is being delivered using the first instalment of its funding from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF), which saw £19.8m awarded nationally in a project dubbed Growing Tourism Locally.
The tourism organisation was recently awarded £666,666 to produce campaigns over the next three years to encourage more Britons to holiday in the city. The campaign aims to boost the local economy by five per cent, an estimated £22m over the three years, and create an estimated 391 new jobs. The first stage is hoping to persuade visitors to choose York for a winter break in the off-peak season between November and March.
York already attracts 7.1m visitors every year who contribute a total of £443m to the local economy, while the industry is responsible for supporting 23,000 jobs.