A letter sent by Susan Briggs, from The Tourism Network in Masham, on behalf of over 1,000 tourism and hospitality businesses in the North York Moors Tourism Network and Dales Tourism organisations to Welcome to Yorkshire has warned there is “increasing concern” about the future of the agency.
It follows a turbulent recent period for the tourism agency which began last month when it was announced chief executive James Mason was to leave on October 22 in the midst of unspecified allegations about his conduct. Mr Mason has denied any wrongdoing and said at the time there was “no link” between his departure and the complaint, details of which Welcome to Yorkshire has refused to reveal.
This was followed by four of the agency’s eight board members resigning, with one of them - Piece Hall boss Nicky Chance-Thompson - saying she felt “very uncomfortable” at the handling of allegations made against Mr Mason. She said that governance committee findings on the matter “appear to have been dismissed without the board having the opportunity to properly consider them”.
It was then confirmed that chairman Peter Box will be standing down at the agency’s AGM on November 1, with fellow board member Dan Bates also leaving at that point in line with a previous arrangement. After that point, Welcome to Yorkshire would be left with two remaining board members - North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les and Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones.
‘Informal discussions’ about the agency’s future took place last week but Welcome to Yorkshire has not confirmed any details of occurred beyond confirming a formal board meeting will take place on October 21 ahead of the AGM on November 1.
In the letter, Ms Briggs said: “We are growing increasingly concerned about the future of Welcome to Yorkshire and would like clarification of your plans. Given the importance of the visitor economy to our region, and the challenges businesses have had to overcome during the pandemic, we are very disappointed at the lack of communication from Welcome to Yorkshire.”
She asked what decisions had been made at the recent meeting, as well as what plans are in place to recruit a new chief executive.
“Given the seniority of this appointment and usual notice periods, if the search starts formally by the end of October and the process runs smoothly, it is unlikely that the new CEO would be in post before March 2022. The recruitment process may take even longer due to tourism industry staffing issues and WTY’s ‘troubled’ reputation.”
The letter also asks whether Welcome to Yorkshire remains financially viable.
“We understood that the local authorities were willing to fund WTY until the organisation was able to attract more private sector investment. Membership has fallen significantly and very few of the businesses we work with have expressed a willingness to re-join, even before the current situation.”
A Welcome to Yorkshire sponsor has also separately expressed his disappointment at the lack of communication from the tourism firm about its future.
Andrew Milnes, from Mortgage Advice Bureau Bingley, said his business has been a member of Welcome to Yorkshire despite not being directly involved in tourism because it believes in the importance of promoting the region and has also been involved as a commercial partner in a number of events.
Mr Milnes said he was “over the moon” when James Mason was appointed as Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive in January 2020 due to both their prior friendship and a belief he would good in the role.
“You can’t fault his drive, enthusiasm and passion,” he said. "He has worked tirelessly to make a success of it."
He said he had hoped for more communication about the direction of the business following recent events.
“As a business owner, we are proud members of Welcome to Yorkshire and we have supported some of the Walkshire activities.
“I find it surprising that a statement has not come from the chair, at the very least to the members. We deserve an understanding of what is going on rather than being told there is a board meeting in a few weeks.”
A Welcome to Yorkshire spokesperson said: "Welcome To Yorkshire’s next board meeting is scheduled for Thursday October 21 at 5:30pm and an agenda will be available seven days before. A statement will be released following the October meeting."
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