Fresh strategy debated to draw more tourists to national parks

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NATIONAL park chiefs are in talks to draw up a new tourism strategy to attract more visitors to boost the multi-million pound industry and counter savage cutbacks imposed by the Government.

Tourism has become an increasingly important facet to the rural economy across Britain, but concerns have been expressed that its full potential is not being realised.

The Yorkshire Post has learned that informal discussions have taken place between senior managers at national parks across England to provide a more co-ordinated approach to draw in more visitors from across Britain and the globe.

The move is seen as key to ensuring that an effective marketing campaign can be staged as national park authorities battle swingeing cuts in funding from Westminster.

Concerns have been growing over tourism figures in some of Yorkshire national parks as the wettest summer for a century has gravely affected visitor numbers this year, and those who do make the journey are often being more frugal with their spending.

A new business network has been established in the North York Moors National Park which has already seen 205 companies sign up to promote new enterprise.

The authority’s head of promotion and tourism, Catriona McLees, claimed the network is vital to helping businesses involved in tourism as well as the creative, retail and food and drink sectors capitalise on their location.

She said: “Tourism has become an increasingly important part of the economy in the national park. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to work closely with the private sector and other national parks to try and attract more visitors. Businesses have told us that they want more networking opportunities, that they want to collaborate and find ways to use this beautiful location as a unique selling point.”

Ms McLees also confirmed informal talks had taken place between top level management at national park authorities about developing the new marketing strategy. While she admitted the talks are in the early stages, she stressed there is a need to provide a co-ordinated approach as resources are increasingly stretched.

She maintained investment in visitor centres in the park and a publicity drive to promote its 60th anniversary this year had helped maintain visitor numbers. But a management plan has warned the North York Moors area’s “brand” and identity are unclear, while traditional skills are being lost and hundreds of heritage buildings are crumbling away.

The authority’s chief executive, Andy Wilson, warned last year that intensifying pressures to boost tourism while preserving the landscapes are compounding an already perilous financial situation.

Its grant is being slashed by 21.5 per cent from £5.1m in the last financial year to £4.3m by 2014-15. This amounts to a real term reduction of 35 per cent once inflation and the loss of funding from external organisations are taken into account.

Elsewhere in the region, there are growing concerns over the dwindling numbers of visitors throughout this year as national park authorities face a mounting financial crisis.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority had hoped to 
raise £386,000 in car parking fees from April to September, but 
the actual figure was just £338,000 – a shortfall of more than 12 per cent.

The park’s five shops had aimed to generate £180,000 in the same period – but the actual figure is down by about five per cent.

The authority has already embarked on its biggest ever overhaul as the 2010-11 Government grant of £5.4m will be slashed to £4.2m by 2014-15.