The similarities between Yorkshire and Las Vegas may not be immediately obvious but the parallels between the two when it comes to their tourism potential has helped open a new chapter for the Welcome to Yorkshire brand.
The region’s official tourism agency was placed into administration at the start of March after council leaders pulled the plug on public funding after years of reputational and financial problems. While the existing company is now being wound down, e-commerce expert Robin Scott’s company Silicon Dales ended up purchasing its key assets including its Yorkshire.com website, brand name, social media accounts and the rights to the Tour de Yorkshire cycling race for £370,000 before VAT.
Scott is now in the process of establishing a new York-based company called Yorkshire.com (International) Ltd to control the assets and launch a very different future for Welcome to Yorkshire than its past iteration, which was heavily reliant on funding from local councils.
Taking over a regional tourism agency may not appear at first glance to be a natural fit for an ecommerce development firm but Scott says Silicon Dales has experience in building destination websites – most pertinently in Las Vegas. His company has been involved with the Onthestrip.com hotel and restaurant listings website featuring attractions in Las Vegas.
Tim Nye, a British businessman based in Barbados who runs the website with his daughter Jenna, has a 49 per cent stake in the new Yorkshire.com (International) Ltd business.
Scott is planning a relaunch of the Yorkshire.com website by the end of this summer and says it is a natural fit with Silicon Dales’s existing work.
“For about a year to 18 months we have been purchasing and actively working on destination websites.
“We have been working on a couple of sites in Las Vegas where they are building up to the Superbowl happening there next year.
“We have been working with hotels in Las Vegas so Yorkshire.com and the accomodation side very squarely fits.
“We build booking systems effectively and we work with all the key players in that market for hotel bookings, for holiday cottages, etc. Welcome to Yorkshire absolutely fits apart from the offline stuff – the awards ceremonies, the cycling events. But that can be organised.
“We are going to look to work with the local authorities but there will be a big difference in terms of the flavour. We are not going to ask the local authorities for money. We are going to try and work with the businesses to actively market the region and area and their businesses as opposed to asking for Government money.”
He says the Welcome to Yorkshire brand name will definitely continue in the short-term, but a long-term decision on its future is yet to be made. However Scott says he does not believe it to be a “toxic brand” despite the problems of recent years started by an expenses scandal. He says the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014, secured by then WtY chief executive Gary Verity, “was probably the best live sporting event that has ever happened in Yorkshire”.
“It is easy to be hyper-critical but you have got to remember the good stuff that is there. That is what we are trying to preserve and a lot of that is tied with the branding as well.”
Scott intends to revive the Tour de Yorkshire, which was set up as a successor event to the Grand Depart but has not been staged since 2019 due to a combination of the pandemic and a lack of agreed funding.
He says while there are “some logistical challenges”, he is encouraged by conversations he has had with cycling chiefs which suggest the event could return as soon as next year. “Like we are looking to do with Yorkshire.com, we can bring it back the same but better. We want it to be a massive international cycling event.”
When it comes to Yorkshire.com, planned improvements include allowing tourism businesses to edit their own entries on the site – something that currently isn’t possible. Scott says that unlike the financial travails of the old Welcome to Yorkshire, which went into administration owing more than £2m, the new business is starting with no debts. But when it comes to how a return on investment will be generated, he is rather more guarded.
“That is a little bit like asking Coca-Cola for their recipes – I’m not going to give you all of the ingredients,” he says.
“But I can give you a very short answer. Our tagline used to be ‘We help you to sell more online’ and that is what we are going to do. All the great businesses there are in Yorkshire we are going to be representing them in the United States and selling them to the middle class of the US, we are going to be pulling people over here. We are also going to look to get more major tech conferences to host in Leeds, York, Doncaster, Sheffield, etc. You achieve that – we get paid, everybody is happy. If we don’t we’ve failed. It is not a hard sell. Yorkshire is the best county by a long way in the United Kingdom and easy to sell. I think we will do OK.”
He adds: “You go to America and you say ‘Yorkshire’ and they have got in their head a Yorkshire terrier. They don’t even know it is a place. That is our task – to make sure people understand where this place is. If instead of flying through and maybe going to York for a day, they stay for a week then we have done our job.”
Scott's 'confession' of Lancashire base
Robin Scott is a proud Yorkshireman who hails from Wensleydale but has something of a confession to make – he currently lives just over the border in Lancashire.
He says after starting his e-commerce business, broadband issues in Swaledale where he was living meant he had to move.
“The broadband in Swaledale, as anybody who lives there will tell you, is not very good. As I had young children I wanted to work from home so moved to a small area just on the edge of the Yorkshire-Cumbria border which does a rural broadband scheme called Broadband for the Rural North.
“So I actually technically live in a bad place called Lancashire!”
Silicon Dales also based their business in Manchester at the same time to take advantage of being around other tech companies based in the city.
“To be honest, it was the best decision we could make.”
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