Gary Verity: Warm welcome for a change that boosts tourism

THE suggestion that the May Day Bank Holiday is switched to the autumn, to provide an end-of-year boost to tourism, is an excellent idea that has enormous potential. I welcome it wholeheartedly.

Not only would it provide a much needed fillip to many of our tourism businesses by helping to extend the season, but it would also be a good way to re-motivate the UK workforce as many come to terms with yet another year of no or low wage rises as living costs soar.

The TUC may have some concerns, but it wouldn’t happen until 2013 at least and I’m pretty sure the extra productivity from a motivated workforce who have enjoyed a long weekend in the Autumn would outweigh the disadvantages.

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I’m less keen on the idea of moving the early May Day bank holiday to the end of April, we already have the Easter holiday which gives a great start to the holiday season. We also have Whitsun.

As for the double-summertime that was dropped from the final version of the Goverment’s new tourism strategy, it is a shame that it is off the agenda for now. Lighter evenings on a fine October Bank Holiday might have persuaded more people to think about staying in the UK for their holiday the following year rather than booking abroad.

That’s what this strategy is all about, recognising the importance and potential of the UK tourism industry and encouraging more people to holiday at home, as well as making it easier for foreign visitors to come here and find their way around the country. As the champion of Yorkshire as a holiday destination, that’s music to my ears.

The Government want to see the staycation trend become a permanent fixture, to see 29 per cent of us holidaying at home compared to the 20 per cent that currently do. And they want to see the development of new “attack brands” like Yorkshire to complement the strength of London for both foreign and UK holidaymakers to help grow the overall value of the visitor economy.

If successful, this could mean 26,000 more jobs in tourism. Already, we’ve seen how quickly the tourism industry responds to demand in this region. We’ve had many more visitors to Yorkshire since the increased promotion through the Welcome to Yorkshire brand in the past two years, and that’s created 4,000 new jobs.

This new government strategy is excellent news for Yorkshire, because we’re already a strong brand, and we’re ahead of the game through the public investment in promoting the county. We have a fabulous product to promote.

We’re already leading the way in the UK in terms of destination marketing and we must maintain that momentum.

The Government has made it clear that there is a limited life for the public funding of tourism, and that’s fair enough.

Now is the time for tourism businesses to step up to the mark and combine their skills and knowledge with the marketing expertise and excellence we have built at Welcome to Yorkshire to create a new style of collaborative joint venture for the tourism industry. The potential rewards for us all are huge.

What we must not do is dilute our marketing impact by trying to be too local. Yorkshire is our strongest brand, and we must find cost effective ways of developing more local marketing within the overall Yorkshire message, rather than instead of.

Taking our eye off the ball while the new funding and structural arrangements outlined in the strategy bed down could be our downfall. So let’s build on the dominant marketing position we’ve all worked so hard to create.

I’ll be working closely with Tourism Minister John Penrose on the shape of the strategy going forward but make no bones about it, the next four years are the most important for the industry in 50 years and Yorkshire is well placed to capitalise.

We have the ear of Government in Penrose and Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, we have allies in Nick Clegg and Vince Cable and we have the support of David Cameron. We are in a unique position. There are challenges ahead but the rewards are greater.

Yes, there are areas for improvement in the policy document, but I see this very much as the first step towards an exciting new age of tourism and not the end of the journey.