Welcome to Yorkshire still needed to promote the county - Stewart Arnold

It is always disappointing when good people leave any organisation and that is especially true of what has happened to Welcome to Yorkshire recently.

The body charged with promoting tourism to the region has lost its chief executive and several board members in the last few days just as it looked to build a recovery for the sector post-pandemic.

Disappointing as it is to lose key people, there is a wide pool of experienced and skilled people across the region who could step up and fill these posts.

What is perhaps more pressing is how Welcome to Yorkshire positions itself in the future.

Tour de Yorkshire

A columnist in The Yorkshire Post last Saturday was frank in her opinion that the problem for Welcome to Yorkshire was that it was trying to do too much beyond the tourism remit.

She went on to say that she never understood how the organisation, originally set up to increase the value of tourism to Yorkshire, was now promoting the county as a place to ‘visit, live, work and study’.

This may be true but this is reflective of the problem that we face in Yorkshire where we have too few organisations promoting the region as a place to do business, as a location for investment, as a conference venue and so on.

In other words, if Welcome to Yorkshire was not doing this work, then who was?

Halifax's Piece Hall is one of the region's premier destinations for tourism.

If we compare our situation with that in Scotland where, of course, there is meaningful devolution with appropriate financing, Yorkshire is way beyond the curve.

Scottish Enterprise is a non-departmental body of the Scottish government which encourages economic development & enterprise, innovation and investment in business.

In fact, it is the successor to the equivalent to a regional development agency north of the border.

Our own regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, was scrapped by Vince Cable in 2010 when he was Business Secretary in the coalition government and replaced by local enterprise partnerships that do not have an overview of Yorkshire as a whole.

Yorkshire Forward had the resources and remit to invest in a wide range of events and activities across an economic brief and had the budgets to support this work.

Welcome to Yorkshire has proved it can deliver excellent events (the Tour de Yorkshire being one) but without the budgets to match.

Yorkshire’s local authority leaders have confirmed that they want to see a region-wide tourist body continue.

This is good news because losing Yorkshire’s tourism promotion to Whitehall would probably not end well for the region.

What the local authority leaders must now do is decide what is the primary role of Welcome to Yorkshire.

If they decide it is about promoting Yorkshire in its widest sense then they will need to provide the finances to do that.

I hope they do, because we need a body to compete with Scottish Enterprise, amongst others, representing Yorkshire as a place not just to visit but also to live, work and study too.

Stewart Arnold is a lecturer at Hull University