Gary Verity: Let’s celebrate the Yorkshire success of a tourism industry that outperforms all the rest

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IN the last month, two pieces of independent research from Visit England, the national tourism body, show that Yorkshire’s tourism industry is continuing to outperform the rest of the country.

More people are visiting Yorkshire, they are staying longer and spending more. Bed nights are up a third, the highest increase anywhere in the UK and yet, if some recent comments are to be believed, you might be forgiven for thinking that Yorkshire’s tourism industry was in decline.

I would like to nip this unhelpful rumour in the bud immediately. Yes, some high profile attractions – North York Moors Railway and the Royal Armouries in Leeds – have announced that their visitor numbers are down this year but I would suggest their experience is not indicative of the countywide picture.

Newby Hall and Gardens, for example, welcomed their 100,000th visitor earlier this month, the last time it was this early in the year was in 2003 and visitors to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park are 50 per cent up on this time last year.

That is not to say everywhere is enjoying a record-breaking summer. In the midst of an economic recession, it would be unrealistic to expect that.

In every industry, there will always be businesses that are doing well and those that are not, and tourism is no exception.

However extrapolating the experiences of a high profile few is not, I would suggest, reflective of Yorkshire’s £7bn a year tourism industry. Yorkshire is busy this summer, but the challenge going forward is to help businesses like the ones already mentioned to reverse their trend of declining numbers and to maintain the county’s presence on the global stage.

Over the last three years, we have gained an enviable reputation for being the most dynamic tourism agency in the UK. We have also gained considerable experience in marketing Yorkshire globally as a destination of choice.

We work on behalf of all tourism businesses in Yorkshire, promoting and championing their causes and concerns.

Our 10 marketing themes are designed to increase the value of tourism to the county and at the heart of each are the welfare and fortunes of the 25,000 businesses and 250,000 employees that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.

They are our primary focus; without them we would not have the world beating and wonderful diverse offering we have.

There are some who have criticised Welcome to Yorkshire for focussing too much of our attention on raising Yorkshire’s national and international profile by trying to attract major events to the county.

I believe there has to be a balance between growing what we have and developing new opportunities.

I’m ambitious for Yorkshire, I think we should be hosting major events and I think we do it fantastically well, which is why we are talking to the Tour de France and are looking forward to hosting the Olympic Torch next summer. This is not a distraction, diverting our attention away from those businesses that are experiencing a downturn. On the contrary, major events such as these have a significant economic impact on the county.

For example, Sheffield and its surrounding area benefits to the tune of £6m a year from hosting sporting events. The Tour de France and the Olympic Torch relay will bring huge additional spend to the areas on their routes, benefiting those businesses that are the bedrock of our industry and providing a shot in the arm for those that might be struggling. While it might not grab headlines quite like the Tour de France and Clipper, the work we do with the grassroots of the industry is incredibly important to us.

To give you an example, Welcome to Yorkshire members get day to day support for their business.

We also provide help on the ground, for example assisting with the promotion of tourist information centres no longer in local authority control, such as Leyburn, Bedale, Richmond and Thirsk.

We also work alongside a string of local tourism associations such as the Upper Wensleydale Business Association, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Tourism and Business Association and Lower Wensleydale and Leyburn, not to mention the local initiatives we support such as funding the Dales Bus Leaflet – Escape to the Dales by Dales Bus – and supporting agricultural shows such as Dentdale, Kilnsey and Wensleydale.

I believe we have got the balance right between local support and global ambition and we’re continuing to see Yorkshire outperforming other areas of the UK in difficult economic times which is reassuring, but in this climate obviously not every business is going to be full or breaking records.

Yorkshire’s tourism industry is rich, varied and to be celebrated on a global scale. Welcome to Yorkshire is best placed promote Yorkshire but individual businesses still need to work hard to maximise their own visitor numbers. Yorkshire continues to go from strength to strength despite the horrendous economic circumstances the UK is facing.

One of the great qualities of Yorkshire business people is our dogged determination to succeed despite the challenges that are thrown in our way.

It is this spirit which gives me confidence that working together we will continue to outperform the rest of the UK.

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Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.