How Welcome to Yorkshire website lets down tourism industry and vindicates Richmondshire Council’s default decision over fee – Jayne Dowle

THIS really should be a golden year for Yorkshire tourism, and we need an organisation at the helm which will manage and promote everything that makes our region great.

Do towns like Richmond benefit from Welcome to Yorkshire - or not?
Do towns like Richmond benefit from Welcome to Yorkshire - or not?

However, the trials and tribulations which have beset Welcome to Yorkshire see no sign of abating as we enter 2022 and another critical year.

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Richmondshire District Council has voted not to pay its annual subscription of £14,515 to the destination management body amid claims of poor value for money.

Should Welcome to Yorkshire do more to celebrate Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate?

In a warning shot from Yorkshire’s smallest district authority, members of the council’s corporate board said that WtY has lost its way and rubbished the quality of service provided, particularly in terms of highlighting activities through social media and promoting local businesses, including B&Bs.

Some argued that even such a modest sum could be better used towards providing much-needed affordable housing, for example.

One elected member had counted the number of social media posts put out by WtY to promote specific information about Richmondshire and said that a teenager was likely to send more posts in a day than WtY had over six months.

Another, William Heslop, who represents Gilling West, added WtY “had had its day” and served too large an area to be meaningful.

Sir Gary Verity is a former chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

“What have I got in common with Sheffield?” he said. “It’s two hours away and also part of Yorkshire. I wouldn’t pay them a penny. Someone said it’s only £10,000 or £15,000 – blooming heck, I thought we were all from Yorkshire. That’s a lot of money.”

And he’s right, on one point at least. Last weekend I drove to Saltburn from Barnsley up the A1 then through the Cleveland Hills and the village of Great Ayton, the boyhood home of Captain Cook – a fact I didn’t know until we saw a sign.

There’s always something to learn but one thing I do know is that Yorkshire changes so dramatically as you travel in any direction for an hour or so.

The councillor is right; Richmondshire and Sheffield have little in common except that to promote ourselves, we should all come under the umbrella of ‘Yorkshire’. We’re stronger together, and as domestic tourism looks set for a bumper year, our assets should be made the most of.

The big problem – and that’s literally a big problem – is that Yorkshire is huge, the largest county in the UK with more than five million people living here.

Trying to please all of us is always going to be an uphill task. And as Mr Heslop points out, the sheer geographical size and variety of towns, cities, villages and rural areas in Yorkshire cannot be summed up in a few pat phrases and some nice pictures. It’s a challenge, for sure, but one which if met will pay dividends and contribute massively to regional economic growth.

If the WtY website is anything to go by, and it is the public face of the organisation after all, recent turmoil has left the messaging unclear.

Sir Gary Verity resigned in March 2019 amid complaints about his behaviour and expenses. His replacement, James Mason, also stepped down last year amid unrelated acrimony.

Documents last year showed “big mistakes” were made in the way the organisation had previously spent taxpayers’ money. A lack of effective governance has blighted the organisation and led to a lack of confidence which is leaving its direction uncertain.

This shows in its most public face; the website is buzzy, with excellent photography and some interesting and unusual first-person stories, but cliched and riddled with assumptions, omissions, generalisations and tin ear errors.

A list of writers, poets and playwrights mentions Caedmon, the Brontes and The Yorkshire Post’s own Ian McMillan, but manages to leave out Marsden’s Simon Armitage who is only the nation’s Poet Laureate.

Descriptions of places to visit are often cliched and require greater care. At random, I picked Wakefield. Here’s a couple of corkers for you to consider;

“The Wakefield district has a history stretching back thousands of years” and “Whether you’re after afternoon tea in cosy cafes, exciting fusion and innovative city center (SIC) cuisine…”

Last time I looked, everywhere in the world has a history stretching back thousands of years, right back to the Stone Age and beyond in fact.

And according to any dictionary, ‘center’ is an annoying Americanisation. As well as the failures in the broad sweep of promotion irritating the good burghers of Richmondshire, it’s details such as this which send out the wrong message and do us all a dis-service.

Now I know it’s my job to be picky over words, but really, a corporate website promoting our region to the world must do better. And so must the organisation behind it.