TOURISM chiefs have hit back at accusations that Yorkshire’s multi-billion-pound industry is in crisis, despite some attractions suffering a slump of more than a third in visitor numbers.
Many of the region’s tourism businesses are banking on this year’s summer season to ensure they can ride out the continuing economic storm. But visitor numbers for several major attractions are down on the figures for last year, prompting concerns that Yorkshire’s lucrative tourism sector is facing major challenges.
One of the worst-hit venues is the World of James Herriot in Thirsk, the museum dedicated to the world-famous Dales vet. Just over 8,500 visitors have been through the doors of the Kirkgate museum between April and June, compared with 13,000 for the same period in 2010. Centre manager Phil Bustard said: “We are not alone – tourist attractions across the country are suffering from the economic downturn.”
Other attractions including the North Yorkshire Moors Railway confirmed visitor numbers are expected to be down by as much as 10 per cent over the peak summer period. The railway has taken measures not seen for a decade since the 2001 foot and mouth crisis by introducing special offers at the height of summer to attract more visitors.
General manager Philip Benham said: “The summer season has so far been disappointing and really quite sluggish. Welcome to Yorkshire may be doing good things for the overall tourism industry, but unfortunately we aren’t seeing the benefits at the moment.
“I honestly don’t think that things are going to improve over the next two or three years, and it is a case of having to batten down the hatches. Everybody is struggling financially at the moment, and we do need to try different things to attract more people in.”
Despite the dip in visitor numbers, Welcome to Yorkshire has attempted to paint a positive picture for the region’s tourism industry. Figures for major tourism attractions such as the National Railway Museum in York have revealed visitor numbers are up six per cent on last year, with 278,855 visitors so far in 2011. But while the museum had attracted 620,000 visitors during 2010, that was a 16 per cent reduction on the previous 12 months.
Other venues have recorded encouraging statistics with Newby Hall, near Ripon, welcoming its 100,000th visitor for the year earlier this month. Nostell Priory in Wakefield has seen visitor numbers up six per cent year-on-year for the end of July, while the RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings, near Leeds, had recorded a five per cent rise up until last month.
However, the warm weather and bank holidays throughout April, including the celebrations for the Royal Wedding, have helped mask a downturn in trade for parts of the region during this summer’s poor weather.
Welcome to Yorkshire’s North Yorkshire area director, David Shields, said: “Generally speaking it’s been a terrific year so far for Yorkshire attractions, but there are a handful not doing quite as well and we will be supporting them in helping to raise their profile and in attracting more visitors.”
Several high-end accommodation providers have also reported a significant downturn in trade, fuelling concerns holidaymakers are turning to cheaper options.
Craven District Council leader Christopher Knowles-Fitton runs a £100-a-night five-star bed and breakfast with his wife, Pam, near Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales. The business has seen a 20 per cent fall in trade since the start of 2011 compared with last year.
Coun Knowles-Fitton said: “We are in a very difficult economic situation, and I suspect it is going to get worse before it gets better. Yorkshire may be weathering the problems better than other parts of the country, as we do have a strong base for tourism, but there is no question many businesses are struggling.
“It would be extremely foolish to bury your head in the sand and pretend everything is going swimmingly, when that is quite clearly not the case for certain areas of the industry.”