Head of tourism body defends spending more than £5,000 on giant snow globe

The head of Harrogate’s tourism body says it will continue to use social media influencers and new marketing campaigns after facing questions over the spending of almost £6,000 in taxpayer’s money.

Gemma Rio, head of Destination Harrogate, was quizzed by members of Harrogate Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny commission.

It came after £5,220 was spent on a giant snow globe at London’s King’s Cross station and £700 was paid to a travel blogger to promote Harrogate at Christmas, as first reported by The Stray Ferret.

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Ms Rio said the marketing methods were a “toe in the water” as part of a new tourism strategy and that similar campaigns would run again.

Gemma Rio, head of Destination Harrogate, was quizzed by members of Harrogate Borough Council

“We’re absolutely delighted with the snow globe,” she said. “Not only was it great for us to be reaching out to new markets in the south east, but it also generated a lot of interest from our stakeholders locally.

“Those stakeholders have since come to ask to buy into our campaigns which will further extend our reach.”

Council leader Richard Cooper also defended the snow globe which promoted train services to Harrogate, saying it was also used in Leeds and “a number of other locations across the district”.

This followed questions over how many visitors came to Harrogate as a result of the snow globe and if the £5,220 was well spent.

Ms Rio said the visitor numbers were “difficult to monitor” and that there was a greater focus on creating a “sustained brand profile” which would promote the district over a long period of time.

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“Place marketing generally is rarely intended for immediate conversion,” she said. “We could have very well hit our target market, for example, a woman in her 50s in King’s Cross station going to work.

“She’s seen the snow globe, interacted with the Visit Harrogate team, picked up a leaflet and been impressed, but the reality is she’s actually already booked all of her festive plans.

“So when she sees our gardens campaign in the spring, or an article we’ve placed in the travel pages of The Telegraph, she will continue to be impressed by Harrogate and she may well come in Christmas 2022 or have a summer holiday in 2023.

“That’s how we manage all of our place marketing.”

Bristol-based blogger Heather Cowper, who runs Heather on Her Travels, was the social media influencer who was paid £700.

After visiting Harrogate, she published an article listing “11 fun things to do” in the district and there have since been questions over how many people actually saw the content online.

Defending the £700 spend, Ms Rio said: “We chose Heather Cowper because her following is largely made up of women in their over 50s which is a key target market for us.

“£700 does sound like a lot of money when it’s reported that it only got two shares. The reality is that the campaign actually got over 10,000 views on Instagram.”

Ms Rio added: “We will continue to look for digital influences that align with our target markets and we will monitor their return on investment.

“We have to ask our residents, business and councils to have a little faith that everything we’re doing is resulting in those visitor numbers.”