Cuts bring uncertain times for struggling businesses

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THE region’s lucrative tourism industry has become the focus of a multi-million pound marketing drive over the past two years, with national television commercials and slick promotional campaigns helping to attract visitors from across the globe.

A revamped tourist board, Welcome to Yorkshire, was launched in 2009 with £30m in funding over three years from the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward. Research has shown that Yorkshire’s tourism is worth about £7bn annually and employs almost 250,000 workers.

But concerns have been voiced over the prospect of future support for struggling businesses as the tourism organisation is faced with a major transition owing to the Government cutbacks.

Welcome to Yorkshire has evolved into a membership-based organisation with businesses paying to join to benefit from marketing and promotional services in an attempt to counter the shortfall in funding.

An annual £10m cash injection will come to an end in the next financial year as Yorkshire Forward will no longer operate from April when Local Enterprise Partnerships will take over its role.

A tiered structure of membership has been introduced by Welcome to Yorkshire, with the region’s biggest attractions and hotels paying £780 a year for its marketing services.

A spokeswoman for the tourism body stressed that moves were underway to obtain finance from other sources, and funding has already been secured from local authorities in the region.

The Welcome to Yorkshire spokeswoman also added that talks were at an “advanced” stage with the Government to ensure additional cash can be secured from Westminster and Europe to help to finance the multi-million pound promotional campaigns for tourism.

There are nonetheless question marks over how marketing strategies will evolve over the coming years.

VisitEngland’s director of partnerships and performance, Louise Stewart, admitted there is a “degree of uncertainty” about the future of the tourism support following the savage public spending cuts.

But she added: “Despite the challenges, there is a clear drive by local tourism bodies to reform their activities swiftly and efficiently in order to ensure that the opportunities of 2012 can be fully embraced and maximised for the future benefit of the industry.

“We need a network of viable tourism bodies at national and local level to work with businesses and other stakeholders to develop and grow the sector. VisitEngland is working hard to support the creation of this new network with expertise, advice and opportunities to share best practice.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport maintained the Government is fully committed to promoting tourism, which a spokesman claimed is a “huge driver of growth” in regional economies.