Showcase Yorkshire's beauty to keep tourists coming - Susan Briggs

In our Saturday Essay Susan Briggs, director of The Tourism Network, based at Masham, looks at the opportunities for 2022 as uncertainty over Welcome to Yorkshire’s future continues.

I WAS shocked when a psychologist told me some people working in Yorkshire’s tourism industry were suffering from something akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Repeated lockdowns with periods of inactivity and fear of losing their livelihood, followed by the euphoria of re-opening and a whirlwind of frenzied activity certainly took their toll. Pent-up demand for holidays and unseasonably good weather meant the season continued far longer than usual.

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Small business owners worked for months without any time off, trying to recoup lost revenue. By December exhaustion had set in, followed by yet more uncertainty. Pubs and restaurants have been particularly badly affected, struggling to juggle staff shortages, peaks and troughs in demand, no-shows and cancellations.

A runner takes an early morning climb up a track from the rural village of Horton-In-Ribblesdale in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, with a backdrop of Pen-y-ghent. Picture: James Hardisty.

There is some positive news. Quietly, without fuss or fanfare, countless tourism owners have edged their way forward. They’ve upgraded their services and facilities. They’ve created new businesses and innovative ways to enjoy time in Yorkshire. Visitors have discovered what we’ve known all along: Yorkshire is beautiful. Whether you want a seaside wander, a hike in open countryside or an evening city stroll, Yorkshire offers an incredible choice. We don’t just offer traditional holiday hotspots. We’re good at catering for niche interests and providing luxury stays as well as more frugal options.

During the lockdowns, green spaces and nature became even more appealing. The National Parks were able to attract a different demographic. We increasingly acknowledge the physical and mental health benefits, with some doctors even prescribing a walk or time outdoors.

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A growing number of accommodation businesses cater for guests with special interests, whether it’s cyclists, walkers or wildlife-watches. Bed and breakfast owners used to simply offer a room and something to eat in the morning: many now provide drying rooms for walkers’ boots and coats, secure cycling facilities and binoculars for bird-watchers or star-gazers. Hotels have found they can fill quieter winter months by providing facilities for guests to learn crafts.

Fishing boats moored in Scarborough harbour. Picture: Tony Johnson.

It’s never been easier to find ways to enjoy new hobbies in Yorkshire. Even before the pandemic, there was a trend toward groups of friends or families wanting to meet and enjoy time together. Yorkshire now offers an incredible choice of larger properties, or clusters of cottages and lodges catering for extended families. Luxurious bed and breakfasts offer exclusive hires for house parties.

Many tourism and hospitality owners took a leap of faith during the enforced closures and upgraded their properties, giving them a fresh look and adding new facilities. After years of believing that you had to be on the ‘continent’ to enjoy alfresco dining, catering businesses got creative with an amazing range of ways to eat outdoors, with everything from rugs to ‘igloos’ adding warmth. Necessity really was the mother of invention, setting new patterns of behaviour.

I’ve also seem countless collaborations between local food and drink businesses, accommodation and visitor attractions, reducing food miles. Some restaurants and food producers developed food boxes and meal kits during the lockdowns, finding they could reach new markets outside Yorkshire and spread the word about our fantastic food.

The pandemic has led to a blurring between home and work, and between work and holiday. If you can work from home, why not try working from a different home or location? Holiday cottages with a decent workspace and wifi now attract people on working stays during the off- season.

While some visitors will always prefer to put their confidence in chain accommodation providers, there is renewed interest and trust in all things ‘local’. Visitors are drawn to places with a strong sense of community, interesting small-scale endeavours and those that contribute to a sense of goodwill. Micro-volunteering is growing in popularity: the opportunity to do spend short spells doing something useful while on holiday.

For now it’s mainly activities like tree-planting with conservation organisations but is starting to include citizen science projects too, perhaps helping to count wildflower species in a meadow or note sightings of rare birds. Most of these changes and improvements have taken place gradually and quietly, initiated by committed business owners as insurance against an uncertain future and in response to visitor demand.

We attracted many first-time visitors in 2021, changing perceptions and surprising some of them with Yorkshire’s diversity. Our challenge now is to come together to showcase what we can do and attract visitors who appreciate our amazing landscapes. Our broader travel plans might be limited, but we can still plan to enjoy more of Yorkshire’s beauty. It’s uplifting and enjoyable, and helps us all become better ambassadors to spread the word to those outside Yorkshire who haven’t yet discovered our treasures.

Monday: Jayne Dowle’s five hidden gems to visit in 2022.