Marketing boost vital as fewer visit Moors park

NATIONAL park chiefs have drawn up a wide-ranging marketing strategy to strengthen the brand of the North York Moors and counter declining visitor numbers which have fallen dramatically during the economic crisis.

Below: Catriona McLees of the North York Moors National Park Authority

The multi-million pound tourism sector has become a cornerstone of Yorkshire’s rural economy, but concerns have been voiced over a continuing decrease in the number of tourists in the North York Moors National Park during the past six years.

The drive is set to include a diverse range of initiatives such as attempting to extend the traditional tourism season which runs from April to September while attracting more of the 7.1m tourists who visit York each year on day trips to the National Park.

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One of the biggest concerns is that the park is mistakenly referred to as the North Yorkshire Moors, which has fundamentally undermined its identity. The North York Moors National Park Authority is planning to build on fledgling social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook to provide a clearly defined marketing brand.

Catriona McLees of the North York Moors National Park Authority

Latest figures have revealed the number of visitor days in the park stood at 10.7m in 2007, but fell to 10.1m in 2011. Data for the last two years has yet to be published, but officials admitted more needs to be done to promote the North York Moors as a tourism destination.

The authority’s head of promotion and tourism, Catriona McLees, confirmed a concerted drive is underway to bolster closer links with the private sector to promote the area, with 200 businesses already signed up to a tourism network.

But the North York Moors has remained in the shadow of the Yorkshire Dales, which is a globally recognised brand aided by products such as Wensleydale Cheese and the worldwide fame of the fictional vet James Herriot. Ms McLees admitted while the North York Moors was designated as a national park two years earlier than the Dales in 1952, marketing over the intervening 61 years had not proved to be effective.

She said: “There is so much to appeal to tourists in the North York Moors, but we do need to let people know that we are here. We do work very closely with the Dales, and it is not about competing with another national park. But we have been in the shadow of the Dales for many years, and we need to make sure that people come to both locations.

“The problems have been compounded by the poor weather of recent summers and the fact that people simply do not have so much money to spend. But we are working hard to turn around the declining visitor numbers, and the new marketing strategy will help address the issue.”

Tourism in the North York Moors brought in £434m during 2011, but its value to the local economy has declined in the intervening years. A draft marketing strategy has now been drawn up and will be considered by members of the National Park Authority next Monday.

It is hoped a boom in popularity in astronomy could lead to an application for the national park to secure Dark Sky Reserve status, while the promotional drive is also looking to capitalise on the area’s rich heritage. Festivals including a celebration of Staithes’ long association with art after the fishing village became home to a famous group of artists in the 19th century are seen as a vital component to promoting the area.

Despite the fears over whether the North York Moors has a strong enough identity, it has nonetheless received high-profile publicity on both television and in cinemas.

The village of Goathland featured in ITV’s hugely popular show, Heartbeat, as well as the first Harry Potter film. But Ms McLees acknowledged there is a need to balance any increase in visitor numbers with preserving the national park’s landscapes.