Top-level talks to protect district’s key tourism industry

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TOP-LEVEL discussions are taking place today between business leaders and council chiefs to drive forward an unprecedented private and public sector partnership to safeguard Harrogate’s tourist economy in the face of swingeing funding cuts.

The Yorkshire Post understands that representatives of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce are meeting with Harrogate Borough Council today, to discuss plans for a new organisation, which is aiming to mirror the success of similar bodies such as Visit York.

The concept of the new Harrogate District Tourism Destination Management Organisation (DMO) was first mooted as far back as last May in the hope of boosting the Harrogate district’s tourism sector, which already contributes £500m annually and supports about 23,000 jobs..

And with an annual £10m cash injection from Welcome to Yorkshire coming to an end in the next financial year as the doomed regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, is replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships in April, it is hoped the new body will help bolster the vital industry - which contributes to around 25 per cent of the Harrogate district’s economy.

However concerns have been voiced over whether the scheme will become a reality without private sector support and investment.

Today’s meeting follows a presentation from Harrogate Borough Council’s chief executive Wallace Sampson, cabinet member for cultural services, Coun Caroline Bayliss, and Coun Jim Clark, the chair of Harrogate Theatre, to members of the chamber of trade last month ,stressing the importance of pushing ahead with the strategy in the district which attracts between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors every year.

At the meeting, business leaders were told that the funding cuts to Welcome To Yorkshire meant ensuring visitors chose Harrogate as their destination within the region in the coming years would now be incumbent on the town’s private sector and the DMO.

“Because the Welcome to Yorkshire funding is being cut, we are all going to have to make the extra effort,” Coun Clark told the Yorkshire Post.

“We have a positive message to put out to the general public in this country and the wider world that Harrogate has super attractions and they are open for business.

“The only way it will work though, is if there is a joined up partnership between the council and the private sector.

“They have so far been very positive about it but we are still working on the final details.

“The DMO is vital to helping us weather the economic storm.”

Harrogate Borough Council has already pledged £50,000 to help launch the DMO over the next year - which it hopes will be match-funded by the private sector - with two consultants currently working on how best to introduce the scheme.

Among the proposals to develop the DMO, include a central tourism website, a greater number of tourist-friendly events to be used to fill gaps in the district’s calendar, and an increased push to raise the standards of everything on offer in order to attract more shoppers and visitors to the area.

The council’s chief executive Wallace Sampson, told last month’s Harrogate Chamber of Trade meeting that of the top ten paid attractions in Yorkshire – Lightwater Valley, Harlow Carr, Fountains Abbey and Harewood House – were within the district or close by, and the different experiences they offered showed the diversity of the area.

However, in the face of declining visitor numbers elsewhere in North Yorkshire, he added that a lot more needed to be done if the area’s vital tourism trade was to continue to flourish in the coming years.

Mr Sampson, who has played a key role in early development of the DMO, said the main strength of the new organisation would be bringing all of Harrogate District’s visitor attractions together.