'Walking capital of the world' tourism strategy for 2021 revealed after Tour de Yorkshire cancellation

Regional tourism bosses will shift their focus from cycling to walking next year following the cancellation of the Tour de Yorkshire.

Yorkshire's many walks will be promoted as part of a strategy to increase tourism in 2021. The picture shows walkers near Leighton Reservoir, Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. Picture: Dave Porter/Adobe

At a Welcome to Yorkshire board meeting on Thursday afternoon, chief executive James Mason announced that the agency will launch a year-long ‘Walkshire’ campaign in January with special events throughout 2021.

“There will be a Tour de Walkshire to replace the Tour de Yorkshire and a Walkshire Day on August 1,” he said.

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In November, it was announced that the 2021 version of the Tour de Yorkshire cycling event was being called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, following the 2020 race also being scrapped. However, Mr Mason said at the time that the intention is the event would be back “bigger and better than ever in 2022”.

Speaking at the board meeting on Thursday, Mr Mason said Walkshire would be the agency’s principal campaign for 2021.

“Walkshire will be the first-ever all year round campaign [for Welcome to Yorkshire],” he said.

The concept will see WtY promote a different walk in the region for every day of the year, in addition to four seasonal walks. Welcome to Yorkshire has partnered with Yorkshire Cancer Research as the official charity partner for the Walkshire campaign.

A Tour de Walkshire campaign will take place in May in the same month that the Tour de Yorkshire had been due to take place.

Mr Mason said: “Walking has become a sanctuary during lockdown. The concept of Walkshire was conceived way before Covid-19 but walking this year has enabled us to appreciate what is on our doorstep more than ever.

“It is the most inclusive of campaigns and we are wanting people to really celebrate Yorkshire and understand it a little bit better.”

He said it is intended there will be opportunities for local businesses to sponsor different walks and be featured on the WtY’s social media channels.

Mr Mason said he believed that the campaign could increase tourism in the region as businesses seek to rebuild in 2021 following the unprecedented challenges of 2020 and the pandemic.

“We are wanting people to stay longer, come more often and spend more money in Yorkshire,” he said.

“We think we can do that. Yorkshire can be the walking capital of the world. We are really excited about what we can deliver.”

He said the campaign would have strong emphasis on inclusion and accessibility with walks planned for all abilities and in cities and towns as well as the countryside. The organisation is working to ensure the campaign features walks suitable for wheelchairs, prams and with changing facilities on route, etc.

The idea was praised by board member Carl Les, who is leader of North Yorkshire County Council. “It is inexpensive, easy to join in with and produces a healthy output. I think it is an absolutely brilliant concept,” he said,

Welcome to Yorkshire chairman Peter Box said: “As a board we are going to set an example and are trying to get a walk arranged. I’m a great lover of walking - you find out far more about a place than you ever could if you use other forms of transport.”

Mr Mason also told the meeting that Welcome to Yorkshire had attracted a sponsor for a parallel concept in 2021 called ‘Net-walking’, where business people meet up for a socially-distance walk. He said it is something staff at Welcome to Yorkshire had already been doing themselves.

“We have been meeting for one-to-one walking meetings. This has proven to be fantastic for the physical and mental health of the staff.”

New app 'can be a game-changer'

Welcome to Yorkshire intends to develop a phone app for tourists coming to the region.

James Mason said it was hoped the app would use people’s information to offer them personalised recommendations of places to visit and stay. It is hoped the app will be ready for use by next summer.

“We believe it is the way forward for the organisation. For our partners and taxpayers that have underpinned the organisation for the last few years, it is something tangible. The app will collect data and will ask for some personal preferences to personalise experiences. We want to be able to have a conversation with our users,” he said.

“We hope that in 2021 if we can develop it, it can be a real game-changer for Welcome to Yorkshire.”

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