Susan Briggs: Why we must work together to push Yorkshire

IN 30 years of tourism marketing, I’ve never been as excited and optimistic about the opportunities for Yorkshire as I am now. Promoting Yorkshire tourism is one of the easiest and most enjoyable jobs in the world.

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

Investment is needed, though not as much as before: it’s never been easier or cheaper to reach the world using the web, social media and word of mouth. Yorkshire people tend to be pretty good at word of mouth.

Creative ideas are essential, but they’re not in short supply. Yorkshire’s always been resilient and resourceful.

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The Yorkshire tourism ‘product’ has never been as good. There are more fantastic attractions, excellent places to eat, quality accommodation and things to do in Yorkshire than ever before.

TV presenter Rob Walker talks to Welcome to Yorkshire commercial director Peter Dodd at this month's Y19 event where it was claimed that tourism is worth £9bn a year to Yorkshire.

We’re all involved in the tourism industry, whether we realise it or not. My local butcher doesn’t just make sausages – he contributes delicious English breakfasts for award-winning B&Bs. Farmers doesn’t just breed sheep – they manage landscapes that visitors enjoy before a pint in a local pub. Artists don’t just paint pictures – they create lasting souvenirs and act as creative ambassadors for the county. Road builders, train drivers, broadband installers – they all make it possible for visitors to enjoy Yorkshire.

It’s not just visitors who enjoy Yorkshire. We’re all tourists at some point, whether we invite friends to stay, explore places on our doorstep or travel to enjoy an ice cream on a beach.

Tourism is about bringing money into the local economy but it’s more than that. Visiting beautiful places, enjoying nature, watching a show all make us feel better: instant escapism, energy for the everyday.

We all contribute to a strong visitor economy. Yorkshire tourism is much more than a single organisation or collection of businesses. A myriad of professionals and volunteers proudly promote their patch, proclaiming Yorkshire’s strengths.

Writers, photographers, artists, actors all play their part. Friendly B&B and hotel owners offer recommendation-worthy welcomes. Knowledgeable locals show off their areas and their skills from fossil-hunting to caving to cake-making. Event organisers add an extra spark and entertainment. Hard-working chefs feed and nourish. There are countless unsung tourism heroes.

Imagine the power of us all harnessing our inherent Yorkshire pride to lure in more visitors to spend and boost our economy. Thanks to recent events at Welcome to Yorkshire following Sir Gary Verity’s resignation, we’re talking about tourism more than ever before. How can we make Yorkshire tourism even better? How do we know we’re successful?

We talk about ‘putting Yorkshire on the map’, ‘Yorkshire as a brand’, ‘raising Yorkshire’s profile’. They’re all important. But we must dig deeper to see the effect of what we do.

We’re fortunate Yorkshire’s councils are willing to invest significant sums into tourism. But these are difficult times: schools, social care, housing all need more public funding. Now is a good time for local authorities to look at their return on investment in tourism.

Yorkshire is big. Some areas need more visitors. Some just want existing visitors to spend more. Some need visitors outside peak season. Some need visitors who love music, others who love nature. We need to consider what kind of visitors we want, and how to attract them.

The total economic value of tourism in Yorkshire is now £9bn, up from £8bn last year. A huge figure. Is it accurate? Not necessarily. It’s derived from data drawn from a variety of sources including VisitBritain who themselves say “small regional (e.g. Yorkshire) sample sizes are often very small and should be treated with extreme caution. These figures are not statistically robust at the regional level”.

Factor in a possible error factor of 10 per cent (given the way data is collated) and it’s not such a good picture. This sort of figure is a useful indicator, not the full story.

We simply don’t know the answers to important questions. We don’t actually know how successful we are in Yorkshire tourism. For each part of Yorkshire, we need to know the answers to questions such as: Is there an increase in visitor numbers? Which geographic areas and sectors have witnessed increased spend? What do our visitors actually do? How do businesses in different areas perform off-peak? Have individual businesses noticed an upturn in their profits? Have communities flourished? Do visitors plan to return and recommend Yorkshire to others?

Full research is needed, to inform marketing activities by Welcome to Yorkshire and others, and to help us calculate the real return on investment. Now is the perfect time to do this, as part of the broader discussions about the future of Yorkshire tourism.

We don’t need to ‘put Yorkshire on the map’. It’s on the map. Yorkshire is a strong brand. It has a high profile. Now’s the time to capitalise, to become more sophisticated and better-informed in our marketing. Imagine the power of everyone truly working together with a common goal, talking about what makes Yorkshire so special. Together we’re a powerful promotional force. Who’s in?

Susan Briggs, from Masham, is director of The Tourism Network.