A Government-commissioned review published this week and conducted by former Tory MP Nick de Bois into Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) such as Welcome to Yorkshire highlighted the financial struggles many of them face.
Welcome to Yorkshire’s well-documented financial problems in recent years saw them take out a £500,000 emergency loan from North Yorkshire County Council in September 2019 - money which is yet to be repaid - while the organisation also pleaded with councils for a £1.4m bailout last year after their finances were further affected by Covid.
Mr de Bois, chair of the VisitEngland Advisory Board, said DMOs “are here to stay” but warned taxpayer funding for them has “all but evaporated in the last decade” with local authorities spending £127m less on tourism in 2017/18 than they did in 2009/10 - meaning that tourism agencies have increasingly had to devote more time chasing income from private members rather than focusing on their core purpose of promoting their regions.
“Core funding would give DMOs the breathing space and firm foundation they need to support a strategic agenda and lean-in to the Government’s tourism priorities, and I do not think the Government can expect high potential DMOs to consistently and substantively support them without it,” his report said.
The review, which was prompted by the struggles of the tourism industry during the pandemic, has put forward recommendations to move away from the “confusing” DMO term and create a nationally accredited system of tourist boards.
These would be split into two tiers - a top tier of ‘Destination Development Partnerships’ that would receive guaranteed Government funding and a second tier of smaller accredited tourist boards that would be members of the local partnership and get financial support from the top tier organisations.
The review said the top tier status could potentially be awarded to city-region sized tourist boards “or to a coalition of willing accredited Tourist Boards within an area that come together under a lead board”.
The findings of the review were supported yesterday at a board meeting of Welcome to Yorkshire, which made submissions to the review.
Chief executive James Mason said the findings are yet to be implemented by Government and funding details remain unclear, while there was no certainty that WtY would be granted top tier status.
But he added: “There’s lots in here which actually should help define our approach for the coming weeks and months. Multi-year funding has to be good news for an organisation like Welcome to Yorkshire - depending on the numbers."
Agency 'will still seek funding from local councils and businesses'
James Mason said “nothing would change” in terms of Welcome to Yorkshire seeking funding from regional tourism businesses and local councils should the shake-up go ahead.
He welcomed the intentions of the review to put tourism boards across the country on a more certain financial footing.
“Nothing would change in terms of our pursuit of membership or local authority support but there may be some central government funding. That exists by the way at the moment, but it’s not guaranteed. We can pitch for central government funding for a number of projects.
“This was needed. It has taken a pandemic for people to realise we should champion the tourism industry.”
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