Kathryn Beardmore director of park services, said it was hoped the authority’s work to promote respect and enjoyment would help continue the change in age demographic and ethnicity of visitors beyond the pandemic.
While in 2017 the authority found 56 per cent of visitors were aged above 55, its 2020 visitor survey found this had reduced to 36 per cent. Some 22 per cent of all visitors last year were in the 25 to 34 age group category.
In addition, the study found 27 per cent of visitors last year were there for the first time compared with 14 per cent in 2017. Half of the visitors to Aysgarth Falls in 2020, and a third to Malham were first-time visitors.
Ms Beardmore said: “The profile of visitors was completely reversed to our normal profile. It was lots of young people. A lot of the first-time visitors last year returned again. A lot of people said they really wanted to come back, but that fundamentally it would have to compete with children’s football on a Saturday afternoon, meeting grandparents or going to the pub on Sunday.”
To improve the first-time visitors’ experiences, many of whom the study found had set off to the park with no knowledge of the area, the authority has deployed “meet and greeters” to its visitor centres and popular sites such as Malham Cove and Aysgarth Falls to highlight what there is to do.
Ms Beardmore said: “We are now packaging stuff in a way that’s more accessible, such as an easy walk and things for children to explore and find out about the area. It’s about making sure when they arrive they feel really welcoming and that they want to come back.”
She said while the park’s economy needed visitors, some of the new visitors were unaware of the expected behaviour. To mitigate issues the authority has launched interventions, such as handing out black bags to get people to take their rubbish home.
Ms Beardmore said: “The main message is about respect. Respecting the community, respecting the environment and respecting each other. People need to think about where they are visiting is somebody’s home.”
Hawes councillor Jill McMullon said there remained an “unbelievably strong interest” in Wensleydale and Swaledale among young people on social media.
She added: “People are more aware of what is important such as exercise, but I would like to see what happens next year and the year after when foreign holidays are open again. The park authority should push the exercise and fresh air opportunities, otherwise we’ll go back to mainly having retirees who rent cottages and have a bimble around.”