Yorkshire fights for its rightful place in world tourism

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We might have a lot to offer, but can Yorkshire really beat the Maldives and Malaysia when it comes to tourism? Sarah Freeman reports.

Some of the names which appear on this year’s contenders for the World Travel Awards need little introduction.

The Maldives with its white sandy beaches and impossible blue seas was pretty much a given, then there’s cultural melting pots like New York and the sun soaked holiday destinations like Jamaica. There’s also Yorkshire.

While those of us who live here might be able to wax lyrical about the landscape of the Dales and the Moors and know places like Leeds and Sheffield have much more to offer than the average British city, convincing overseas visitors to head north has been notoriously difficult.

For many, England stops at the end of the Tube line and once Buckingham Palace, the V&A and the London Dungeons have been ticked off, it’s time to board the plane back home.

However, things are slowly beginning to change and Welcome to Yorkshire’s nomination as the world’s leading tourist board could well be a sign that the county is making its voice heard. The organisation’s chief executive, Gary Verity, certainly seems to think so.

“The number of visitors who come to Yorkshire from abroad has grown way ahead of many other parts of the country,” says Gary, a man who rarely leaves the house without a Welcome to Yorkshire sweatshirt and who has become a walking advert for the county. “We have done a lot of work with P&O Ferries and Jet2 to get the message out about what Yorkshire has to offer and that has been very successful in attracting German and Dutch visitors.

“The dramatic landscape of Yorkshire is refreshingly different, particularly for the Dutch and that’s what we really need to push. However, we can’t be complacent.

“While our overseas visitor figures have increased, of the 33m people who come to London each year, only three million of them make it to Yorkshire.”

If he had the time to personally escort every single one of them up the M1, you suspect he would, but instead much of his work has been attaching the Welcome to Yorkshire name to a series of high profile events and marketing campaigns, from sponsoring a boat in the Clipper Round the World Race to bringing the World Mountain Bike Championships to Dalby Forest.

It is far removed from the idea of the old tourist boards and their nice line in B&B brochures, but many see it as a necessity to keep visitor numbers up. More recently the organisation, which has also been shortlisted in the best website category of the World Travel Awards, has also been boosted by the opening of Hepworth Wakefield. Less than five weeks after it opened in May this year, the gallery welcomed its 100,000th visitor. With the Yorkshire Sculpture Park close by, the area is fast becoming a magnet for art lovers and together will help banish any lingering grim up north stereotypes.

“I think Yorkshire is holding its own on the world stage and projects like Hepworth Wakefield can only help to further cement our reputation,” says Leeds-born Gary. “I remember seeing the business plan for the gallery quite a number of years ago.

“Even on paper it looked like an incredibly exciting venture, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted quite just how it has taken off. When you look back at the last couple of years there is an awful lot we have to be proud of.

“There’s the fact that the World Snooker Championships were broadcast into 800m homes in China’s, there’s the fact that the ITV series The Dales provided a fantastic showcase for the people and places of North Yorkshire and before that there was winning a silver medal with our Rhubarb Crumble and Custard garden at Chelsea.” The list, he says, goes on, and he is currently in negotiations to bring the opening stages of the Tour de France 2016 to Yorkshire. Any deal is unlikely to be finalised for some time, but if it comes to fruition it will be a real coup for the county.

“The tourism market is more competitive than it has ever been and unless you think big, whether that be sponsoring a yacht or buying advertising in the breaks between Downton Abbey then you risk being left behind,” he adds. “A second series of The Dales just finished filming in March and if we can repeat the ratings of the last series then we will be doing incredibly well.

“We all know how great Yorkshire is and the rest of the world is now starting to listen.”

• The winners of the World Travel Awards, which will be announced next month, will be decided by public vote. To register support for Yorkshire vote online at www.yorkshire.com/vote