YOU don’t have to marry a stranger to explore Yorkshire. You might have to if you want to get to know Amsterdam better. Their city marketing bureau is offering fake marriages to strangers who’ll then guide you away from the obvious tourist sights.
This creepy sounding activity is one of the ways they’re trying to counteract ‘over tourism’ in the centre of Amsterdam. Along with Venice, Barcelona, Edinburgh and many others, they’re struggling under the burden of huge visitor numbers.
Amsterdam wants the income from visitors but not really the visitors themselves, so they’re turning to quirky experiences to lure visitors to the suburbs.
While some destinations are rejecting the idea of more tourists, we’re still offering a warm Yorkshire welcome. Luckily for us, Yorkshire is large and visitors spend their money across the county.
Small, independent businesses are the backbone of our tourism industry, and essential to our economy. Many thrive by being creative, resourceful and collaborative. They’re already learnt something Amsterdam and other world class cities are only just realising.
They’ve spotted one of the most important trends in tourism: visitors don’t just want to look, they increasingly want to do and learn and have experiences. Visitors love locals who can offer insider tips. It’s all about making lasting memories – and posting on Instagram so friends say “Where’s that?”
In the last few years a quiet transformation has taken place in Yorkshire. Small businesses, working at the ‘sharp end’ of the tourism industry, have looked at what today’s visitors want. They’ve created hundreds of new ways to enjoy Yorkshire.
We’ve already got the kind of off-the-beaten track experiences Amsterdam is now trying to offer. Fossil-hunting, star-gazing on a deserted beach, chocolate making, creating your own gin, dry stone walling experiences, learning how to work a sheep dog and gather sheep, pub safaris, mead tasting in an ancient abbey, guided tours of quirky places. If you live in Yorkshire, these delights are all on your doorstep.
We also have upgraded accommodation for higher-spending, longer staying visitors. Yorkshire excels in city centre boutique hotels, country house retreats and cosy cottages.
If you still associate B&Bs with candlewick bedspreads and grumpy landladies, think again. Now you’re more likely to find fine Egyptian linen in uber-contemporary rooms, or award-winning breakfasts in historic settings. No need for a fake marriage to meet a local. Here you can just check into a good B&B and meet the owner who’ll proudly recommend pubs, attractions and other nearby experiences.
The businesses are ready. But do visitors, and Yorkshire residents, know about these developments? Probably not.
Just as the businesses have changed, so have visitors. They’re turning away from official sources of information. Recommendations from peers are key. Today’s visitors don’t just go to one website. They research in depth. They pick up ideas on social media, and trust bloggers and influencers they think might have insider knowledge. They value articles from journalists and travel writers with first-hand experience of places. Visitors gather their inspiration from many different sources.
Yorkshire is fortunate that councils have made generous budget allocations for tourism marketing. It’s time to look again at how that money is spent so promotional efforts to match the expectations of today’s visitors.
We’ve put Yorkshire on the map; now we need to look at the map itself. It would be good to ask businesses which areas need promotion, when and how?
Most councils make contributions to Welcome to Yorkshire, a private sector company. This generally happens without tendering because local authorities (mistakenly) think there are no alternatives. Some have suspended their funding pending the outcome of the investigations into WTY bullying and management culture, and also its financial governance.
In the meantime, Welcome to Yorkshire is recruiting for a new chief executive to replace Sir Gary Verity but they’re not likely to be in post for a few more months.
In the meantime, let’s take store of what small businesses need and the numerous ways visitors are influenced. What do we need the ‘new’ Welcome to Yorkshire to do?
We definitely need much better marketing intelligence to understand more about our visitors, and to evaluate marketing activity effectively.
We need more media coverage to show how the area has changed and what new experiences are available. Imaginative marketing is needed to showcase less obvious areas and different ways to enjoy Yorkshire.
But I don’t think we need to ask our visitors to marry any strangers.
Susan Briggs is director of The Tourism Network which is based in Masham.