Town reviews tourism services as pressures grow for savings

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A ROOT and branch review of Harrogate’s award-winning visitor information services which are some of the best in the country has been agreed, although senior councillors have promised no cuts will be made as part of the changes.

The Yorkshire Post understands that Harrogate Borough Council is looking at its visitor information services across the district as part of its new Tourism destination management organisation (DMO) which is being established in the hope of boosting the district’s tourism sector, which already contributes £500m annually and supports about 23,000 jobs.

The Harrogate tourist information centre, which was hailed in the 2011 Yorkshire White Rose tourism awards, attracts 150,000 visitors a year alone, while Pateley Bridge, Ripon and Knaresborough also record high numbers.

As part of the review, new arrangements are also being considered for visitor information services in Masham and Boroughbridge which are currently run by the community.

Coun Caroline Bayliss, Harrogate Borough Council cabinet member for cultural services, said: “We are not going to pull funding from any of these tourist information services.

“This is a very preliminary report. Tourism in Harrogate is what I am about and we need to make everything as efficient as humanly possible.

“Everybody is currently looking at the way they are working and trying to find any saving they can.

“If we can find a better arrangement or a better way of working then we are going to do it.

“This is most certainly a root and branch review.

“We spend an awful lot of money on our tourist information services but we have some of the best in the country and we are going to make sure we stay at the highest level. Tourism is one of the priorities of the council.”

Harrogate district currently attracts between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors every year

An annual £10m cash injection from Welcome to Yorkshire comes to an end in this financial year as the doomed regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, is replaced by local enterprise partnerships.

It is hoped the new destination management organisation will help bolster the vital industry – which contributes about 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.

Harrogate Borough Council has already pledged £50,000 to help set up the DMO over the next year – which it hopes will be match-funded by the private sector – with two consultants now 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 a meeting of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade in February that of the top 10 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, with visitor numbers declining 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.

Tourist information centres across North Yorkshire have been cut back in recent years as councils struggle to claw back millions of pounds in savings following central Government cuts.