Richard Spencer: How Harrogate is gearing up to welcome cycling's world elite

WHAT do Superman and cyclists have in common? A love of synthetic attire. Superheroes wear Lycra.

Marcel Kittell wins the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Harrogate from Peter Sagan after Mark Cavendish crashed at the bottom of Parliament Street.  5 July 2014. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Marcel Kittell wins the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Harrogate from Peter Sagan after Mark Cavendish crashed at the bottom of Parliament Street. 5 July 2014. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Before I talk about cycle power, let’s check the headlines: it’s hard to escape the deluge of closures and talk of the demise of our High Streets, with big brands staggering and falling across the nation. What happens to the fiscal and cultural value of the character of a town?

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At Visit Harrogate, we’re supporting a major campaign to back our independents. Indies are a crucial part of the High Street mix, and we are lucky to have longstanding family-run businesses like Jespers, Bettys and Woods of Harrogate, which add heritage, quality and heart to the town, alongside new innovative enterprises. That special, personal, indie experience is one of our key differentiating destination attributes – what makes Harrogate stand out from the crowd.

Harrogate will host cycling's World Championships next year.

Back on the bike. Today, officials will announce Harrogate as the host town for the UCI Road World Championships 2019. The 2017 UCI Road World Championships were hosted in Bergen. And the Bergen Report has just landed and the stats speak for themselves.

Visitors to Bergen spent €21m during the championships. Visiting media and teams spent almost €4m in Bergen over the course of the championships and those championships provided a €25m boost to the economy of Bergen.

Teams, support staff and media stayed on average for more than a week, while spectators from abroad enjoyed average extended stays of more than four days. Even those coming from other parts of Norway made the most of the opportunity to see world-class cycling on home soil and stayed more than three nights on average. Furthermore, international visitors to the championships spent in access of €130 per day and 80 per cent of them visited a local non-cycling tourist attraction during their stay.

The UCI is not just about a short-term injection, it’s a chance for the Harrogate district’s food, drink, retail and attractions to fling their doors open to the world, and its media. Which is why we, as an organisation and town, are gearing up to give a very warm welcome to the world.

Harrogate’s heart, soul and individuality are all vital to attracting these events – tourism and the conference trade rely on a destination that delivers something a little different, 
a little unique.

The town is working to ensure its centre can be the best it can be – beautiful and boutique with vibrant food and drink, and a stunning public realm and parks. As a major conference destination for national and international exhibitors, it has a robust tourism infrastructure that gives us a competitive advantage over other destinations – thanks to the early enterprise thinking of the local authority.

Harrogate is a natural home to events. As well as its annual Harrogate International Festivals, year-round conference trade, and flagship Flower Shows and Great Yorkshire Show, 2019 also sees hundreds of international tour operators, travel agents and journalists decamp to our town for the prestigious 2019 VisitBritain conference, ExploreGB, on May 8-10.

As a tourism agency, we’ve been working hard to support our district to maximise these opportunities. We became the first UK Destination Marketing Agency to introduce a new technology from Canadian pioneers CrowdRiff to capture and harness the imaging power of social media platforms, which we share on our website, ranked number one on Google.

CrowdRiff creates an online gallery of public images posted on social media to help promote the district. Visit Harrogate created a ‘Tour Wall’ of the Tour de Yorkshire as its first themed campaign. The Tour Wall shows the full spectator experience, not just the race but the carnival atmosphere, warm Yorkshire humour, and stunning settings. We plan to build on its success for the 2019 UCI Championships.

Samson Fox, the once Mayor of Harrogate, showed what could be achieved with innovation and vision. His ‘water gas’ that lit the town, left the UK marvelling at how ‘the Mayor of Harrogate has bottled the sun’. He went on to fund the majestic Royal Hall. We have a lot to celebrate, and to safeguard.

To all the naysayers who see the cloud rather than the silver lining, get on your bike and join in.

Pulling together, we can be one of the most competitive and desirable destinations in England.

Richard Spencer is CEO of Visit Harrogate.