AS well as being famous for its straight-talking people, Yorkshire is renowned around the world as a place with outstanding countryside and a unique and rich cultural heritage.
For those of us that call Yorkshire home, it is not surprising that visitors often leave astounded by the breathtaking beauty that our county has to offer; nor does it surprise us that parts of our region often top the polls as the friendliest and most welcoming places in the UK to visit.
Despite the recent upheaval at Welcome to Yorkshire – which has done so much important work over the years promoting our county – we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from the important task of selling Yorkshire on the global stage.
Because Yorkshire’s tourism industry is now worth a reported £9bn to our economy, it creates jobs for our residents and it means that people from across the world can enjoy what we have to offer.
Our artistic, literary and musical heritage is great, and our theatres, galleries and beautiful local and national parks give us much to be proud of.
This week is English Tourism Week, an opportunity to celebrate and champion the assets that we have. We often focus on some of Yorkshire’s most famous and successful tourism destinations: the Yorkshire Dales; North Yorkshire Moors, the Peak District; the historic city of York; our stunning Yorkshire coastline – and rightly so.
They are fantastic places to visit and make a significant contribution to our economy. But we must also remember that in South Yorkshire, we have a unique offer to visitors from around the world that does not always get the same level of attention as the better-known tourist attractions.
We already host world-class music and film festivals, including Kate Rusby’s Underneath the Stars Festival, Tramlines, the Coalfields Festival and Sheffield’s Doc/Fest. The Crucible is known for hosting World Snooker Championships; and our picturesque countryside hosts the annual Penistone show, and is a regular feature for fans of the Tour de Yorkshire – cycling has really helped put Yorkshire on the map in recent years.
But it is important that we do more to showcase what we have to offer to the rest of the world. When I stood to be mayor of the Sheffield City Region, I made a manifesto commitment to support our unique cultural assets. I did so because I recognise the huge contribution that the visitor economy already makes to our region, and the further contribution that it could make if we give our tourist attractions the right level of support.
That is why my Mayoral Combined Authority, working with the Local Enterprise Partnership, is supporting some exciting developments. Last year, we invested £5m from the Local Growth Fund in Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster – home to England’s only polar bear – to support plans to double visitor capacity to 1.5 million, creating 300 jobs in the process.
We also invested £1.5m support to Gulliver’s Valley, which plans to create a theme park resort in the Rother Valley Country Park that will create jobs and attract further investment. And in January, we approved £4.8m for the Parkwood Springs extreme sports development in Sheffield, which will continue to support the city’s reputation as the ‘Outdoor City’.
But, equally, we must support some of the smaller tourist attractions tucked away in parts of our region. Elsecar Heritage Centre, Cannon Hall Farm and Wentworth Woodhouse are well known locally as great days out; and I am delighted that Wentworth Castle Gardens will soon be reopening after a period of closure – and it will be the first National Trust site in South Yorkshire. They help to preserve our unique heritage and cultural identity – and we must continue to support them.
I have said previously that if Yorkshire Sculpture Park was in the South, it would be one of the UK’s most famous and successful tourist attractions. An amazing shared asset that sits on the border between South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, this wonderful playground for the imagination is home to some of the most eccentric and creative artistic works anywhere in Europe.
We have to shout more loudly about our attractions if we are to maximise the potential benefits to our visitor economy – because we have lots to celebrate. I am determined to provide whatever support I can to help grow our tourism industry and our visitor economy, because having it as a structural part of our economy has clear benefits. And this means working with Welcome to Yorkshire to showcase the very best that South Yorkshire has to offer.
English Tourism Week is a chance to celebrate and champion our tourism industry, but let’s also take the time ourselves to fully appreciate what we are lucky to have right on our own doorstep in Yorkshire.
Dan Jarvis is the mayor of Sheffield City Region. He is also the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.