That’s where we find ourselves, having taken up the roles of Chair and Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire in October 2019 and this month respectively. We’re Yorkshire born and bred, both realistic optimists and we’re both up for the challenge.
Brand Yorkshire is doing really well: it’s a world class destination – a record breaking number of overseas visitors headed to Yorkshire during the first half of 2018, outperforming any other region.
One in 10 overnight trips taken in the UK happen in Yorkshire, sustaining a quarter of a million jobs. The latest available figures show overall tourism spend in 2017 was £5bn, and £567m was by international visitors (up 10 per cent from 2016). Spend of visitors from the USA is growing particularly rapidly, with visits up 27 per cent from 2016 and a 44 per cent growth in spend.
We firmly believe Welcome to Yorkshire can significantly increase the number of visitors to the region. But first, we need to press reset. There can be no denying that 2019 was a tough year for Welcome to Yorkshire, especially for the frontline staff who kept on delivering through some pretty turbulent times.
We acknowledge that there is an urgency to reforming the organisation, given the turmoil of the past 12 months; that our organisation needs to be more transparent in decision-making, with more accountable governance, whilst retaining the business acumen of the private sector.
We also know that Welcome to Yorkshire has put the county of Yorkshire on the national and international map in the past decade. Creativity remains at the core of what we are all about. We’re proud of having an award-winning track record of delivering high-profile, high- impact events that have put Yorkshire on the world stage.
After 10 years, any organisation would want to review how it operates. Change is under way. As well as our arrival, we’re appointing new board members – we’ll be announcing the first two names later this month. We’re clear that Welcome to Yorkshire will be recreated as a dynamic, creative, inspirational, passionate, and ambitious organisation; an organisation that is diverse, inclusive, honest and respectful. And we need to listen.
We’ll be taking every opportunity throughout this new decade to say, loud and clear, that Welcome to Yorkshire is a destination marketing organisation, tasked with promoting Yorkshire – regionally, nationally, and internationally. We will achieve this by working with experts in the tourism and allied industries. It’s vital that we are clearer on what our paying members get from us. We also want to look at opening up low cost, personal membership. These important relationships will be developed and nurtured over the coming 12 months.
The brand is Yorkshire. Our job is to promote that brand. The ‘offer’ is as diverse as the people and geography of the county; culture, art, music, science, heritage and sport – edgy urban art alongside established stately homes – world leading sporting teams and events sharing winners’ podiums with some of the world’s most famous artists and performers. Wordsmiths and blacksmiths, food from around the corner, and around the world. A Tour de Yorkshire that has become a tour de force. The backdrop is stunning countryside and coastline, economically powerful cities, historic towns and villages weaving through dales, valleys and wolds.
This is England’s largest county and the task for us is to tell its story – through the words and pictures of people who live here, on multi-channel platforms, deploying the latest digital disciplines.
It will be about working with people on the tourism frontline – those who run our visitor attractions, the hotel and B&B owners – and major event planners across the globe. We will have more conversations with Yorkshire people, around the world, via our social channels. This is going to be a dialogue, not a monologue.
Before Christmas, we launched a major consultation exercise with the tourism industry and our own staff. This will run throughout the remainder of this month and into mid-February.
The findings from this exercise, which we’ll publish in March, will help shape our focus and strategy over the next 10 years and allow for even greater collaboration across Yorkshire as part of our commitment to being an open, honest and transparent organisation.
As a previous editorial in this paper said, if Welcome to Yorkshire didn’t exist, it would have to be created. We’re now recreating the organisation – a creative and consultative organisation that is clear and consistent in how it goes about its business.
Peter Box CBE is chair of Welcome to Yorkshire and James Mason is the organisation’s new chief executive.