Yorkshire Dales National Park witnesses dramatic rise in first-time visitors as tourists look to the countryside

SENIOR officials at one of the country’s most popular National Parks are developing a strategy to cope with a rising number of first-time visitors who are being lured to some of the most famous locations in the North of England’s countryside.

Walkers enjoy the limestone landscape of the dry valley above Malham Cove, which has been one of the most popular destinations in the Yorkshire Dales National Park this year. (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)
Walkers enjoy the limestone landscape of the dry valley above Malham Cove, which has been one of the most popular destinations in the Yorkshire Dales National Park this year. (Photo: Bruce Rollinson)

The Yorkshire Dales National Park has witnessed a surge in visitor numbers in the past two years with a dramatic shift in demographics as the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented overseas travel.

A survey which was conducted this year found that just over a quarter of people who were questioned were first-time visitors to the National Park.

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However, a third of visitors did not use any information to plan their visit, and simply turned up at their chosen destination.

Tourists who did research ahead of their trip flocked to prime locations such as Aysgarth Falls and Malham Cove, which are popular results in online searches.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s chief executive, David Butterworth, told The Yorkshire Post that efforts are under way to help the number of visitors enjoy their visit and understand the Countryside Code and minimise their impact, especially at hugely popular destinations.

He said: “This is the first time that we can say for definite that people are coming into the Dales from all over the UK for perhaps longer stays than they had in the recent past couple of years.

“It is also confirmation that many businesses are seeing their occupancy levels rising as well, which is obviously good news.

“While we do have to carefully manage specific locations, it is in many ways a nice problem to have given there are more and more people who are experiencing what the Dales have to offer for the first time.”

The National Park authority collated data from a variety of sources including headcounts of visitors as well as car park ticket sales and monitoring traffic levels.

A fifth of all visitors during this year came from West Yorkshire, although most first-time tourists - a total of 37 per cent - had travelled from the South-East of England and London.

The data has revealed that the second and third quarters of this year were particularly busy, with Malham Cove experiencing the busiest June since figures have been collected.

The National Park’s car parks had 1,172 ticket sales in August, which was the highest number since 2015 when the Dales witnessed a surge in tourism after the Tour de France’s Grand Départ was staged in Yorkshire the previous year and showcased the region to a global audience.

Work that is already under way to deal with the influx of visitors includes deploying rangers at tourism hotspots as well as producing free leaflets with key messages about the Countryside Code and a short introductory walk from car parks at the National Park’s visitor centres.

Signs and colour coded waymakers are also being enhanced to help new visitors to orientate themselves, and ‘meet and greet’ volunteers have been recruited at Malham and Aysgarth Falls.

Go Wild sessions have also been organised to promote the Countryside Code and help first-time tourists understand how to behave responsibly in rural locations.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in January that the Dales had witnessed a dramatically different demographic of first-time visitors during last year when coronavirus restrictions were relaxed.

Younger visitors, including ethnic minorities, have taken the opportunity to explore previously undiscovered countryside gems as the nation’s love affair with nature has been rekindled.

Figures from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority showed that people aged between 16 and 24 made up just two per cent of visitors in 2017, while they equated to nine per cent last year - an increase of 350 per cent.

The multi-million pound tourism sector is one of the cornerstones of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s economy.

The National Park usually attracts in the region of five million visitors each year, with about 80 per cent on day trips.

Tourism in the National Park, which covers 841 square miles and was established in 1954, is worth in excess of £700m each year, although the sector has endured a significant drop in income during the pandemic.