Welcome to Yorkshire has survived 'despite all odds', says outgoing chief executive

Welcome to Yorkshire’s future under new leadership will depend on its financial viability after surviving the pandemic “despite all odds”, outgoing chief executive James Mason has admitted.

James Mason is leaving Welcome to Yorkshire next month. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The tourism agency has faced major financial challenges in the past few years – taking out an emergency £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council in September 2019 that is yet to be repaid, while also requesting a £1.4m bailout from local councils last year after its finances were affected by Covid.

Mr Mason said the agency’s staff “deserve the opportunity to keep going” but admitted there are ongoing questions about the future of WtY, which has also been dealing with a reputational crisis due to the emergence of issues that occurred under his predecessor Sir Gary Verity.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“There have always been concerns about Welcome to Yorkshire’s present and future,” he said.

“However we’ve proved despite all odds we could keep the organisation going during the toughest of times and delivering a service.

“There are so many talented staff still there that deserve the opportunity to keep going but as with everything it will come down to financial viability.”

It was announced earlier this week that Mr Mason, who joined the agency in January 2020, would be leaving Welcome to Yorkshire on October 22 to take up an unspecified new job in the New Year.

During his time in the post, WtY has cut almost half of its staff, saving around £1m from its annual wage bill.

The tourism agency is a private company but receives millions of pounds in funding from local councils in addition to membership fees from tourism businesses based in Yorkshire.

Mr Mason said he was proud of what he had achieved at his time at the agency, particularly the year-long ‘Walkshire’ campaign which has been running throughout 2021 and is promoting Yorkshire as the “walking capital of the world”.

He said: “Our year long Walkshire project has offered visitors a walk a day all across the region and surpassed 10 million impressions online.”

Mr Mason said supporting local tourism businesses while promoting the Yorkshire brand more widely during the pandemic has also been an achievement for the agency.

“We developed and implemented a tourism recovery taskforce as well as a personal membership/tree planting scheme,” he said. “We kept the kettle boiling for Yorkshire’s PR during the pandemic as a place to want to visit, live, work and study.”

Mr Mason is only the second chief executive in the tourism agency’s history, having taken over from Sir Gary Verity who resigned on health grounds in March 2019 in the midst of allegations about expense spending and behaviour towards staff.

Sir Gary subsequently repaid more than £44,000 to the organisation.