Nothing to lose, everything to gain

Nothing to lose, everything to gain

The festival of colour, sweat and noise that will spin through Yorkshire next year carries not only the hopes of the world’s best cyclists with it – but also a growing number of businesses in the county, writes Andrew Mernin.

Doubts about funding have cleared, the route has been set and the focus has turned to maximising the opportunities of the Tour de France’s premeditated summer romance with Yorkshire.

Across the business community the prospect of the tour has been digested and is now seeping into boardroom chatter, sales pitches and PR speak.

Momentum is building and the event has become many things to many people in these parts. For some, such events are an opportunity for awareness raising.

In Brazil recently, protestors took advantage of a football tournament with a global TV audience, to tell the world about their hardships. Perhaps a microcosm of this is the MP who piggy-backed on the hype around the Tour to moan about potholes in Yorkshire and their need for repair before the big event.

For others the Tour is just a feather in the cap which offers them general market confidence, even before clear tangible benefits have emerged in their sector.

As one commercial property figure crowed in the press recently: “Name me another city that has a new shopping centre, music venue, speculative office space and a major sporting event – the Grand Depart of the Tour de France...Leeds has got its mojo back.”

At Leeds Bradford Airport, the Tour has opened up a clear scoring opportunity which commercial director Tony Hallwood is eager not to miss.

“We’re never going to get a better opportunity than this,” he said of his plan to use the Tour as leverage to forge links with France. At the start of July he attended the French Connect conference in Bordeaux, where airlines, airports and tourism authorities converged to hunt for new commercial links.

Hallwood told BQ before he jetted off: “The Tour is a once in a lifetime opportunity to really capture these economic benefits.”

His aim is to add new French routes to the 75 destinations already on the departures board at the airport and he genuinely believes the Grand Depart will provide the Anglo-French goodwill to do that. Currently just one Paris-bound flight leaves Yorkshire every day.

“We’re looking to introduce multi daily frequency services to Paris,” he said. “Paris is a very, very big market for us. We believe the Tour de France could be an impetus to us in increasing our growth and development into the key French market.

“There are some key French businesses located in Yorkshire and plenty of Yorkshire businesses with associated partners in France.”

He hopes to increase links to Paris and open up onward travel to places like Bordeaux, Marseille and Lille. Businesses plugged directly into the visitor economy will benefit most from the Tour.

Early predictions say the event could be worth more than £100m to Yorkshire’s economy, with between two and three million people expected to turn out to watch in Yorkshire. In Harrogate, a town which has never struggled to attract visitors with pulling power drawn from historic sites and surrounding beauty, even it is working hard to take full advantage. Angela Harris was recently appointed project director of ‘destination management organisation’ Visit Harrogate.

The organisation was conceived before confirmation of the Tour’s route but Harris admits it’s a “lucky” coincidence that just as she gets to work in building the district’s offering, such a global event will swoosh through her patch. The Tour, she said, “will get us on the map”.

“We’re making sure that when they come to Yorkshire they come to this district. We know what we’ve got here but I don’t think we’ve projected that image enough. People still come and love it here but we recognise that we have to do more to actually promote the joined up thinking and the district as a whole. Together we have a much better product.”

After an initial standoff between Yorkshire stakeholders and central government earlier this year, a £10m grant was eventually awarded to support the Yorkshire leg of the Tour, prompting a delighted Julian Smith, Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon, to say: “There will be billions watching on television, millions on the streets and thousands of hotels, bed and breakfasts, shops, pubs, restaurants and other tourist destinations benefiting.”

The trick now is to make sure the investment, publicity and visitor spend sticks and creates long-term business growth. One way to do this, believes Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity, is to make Yorkshire the European capital of cycling – or an extremely cycle-friendly destination at least.

“This isn’t just a one-off, there are other international races we want to see happening in Yorkshire and we want to see more people cycling at all levels.”

Verity said London had seen a huge rise in interest in cycling when it hosted the Grand Départ in 2007.

Meanwhile, a 100-day arts festival to promote Yorkshire as a cultural destination, supported by £1m of public funds, was recently given the green light and it too will no doubt play a part in building pre-tour momentum.

Within the business community there’s certainly a keen appetite to share the warmth of the Tour’s glow. By the end of its four month-long series of awareness-raising road shows about the Tour throughout the county, Welcome to Yorkshire reckons it will have pitched to over 2,000 businesses.

In fact demand has been so strong that extra dates have been added. But amid all the preparation and speculation, some businesses have just got on and done it - and are already taking commercial advantage. Business leaders seeking inspiration to help them do the same would do well to speak to Malcolm Weaving, owner of the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton.

He heard the Tour would be passing nearby his business while in hospital recovering from a “replacement of a replacement” hip. He immediately considered how he could take advantage and called his old mate, Alan Halsall, chairman of global pram brand Silver Cross for advice.

He told him not to try to do something he knows nothing about and, instead, call in the experts. By chance he came across CyCol Tours – their expertise is in motorbike escorted cycling trips – and the plan was set.

Malcolm said: “We wanted to do something to herald this massive sporting event coming to our town of Skipton and also to give people the chance to experience the routes that the world’s finest cyclists will be taking on themselves next year.

“It’s great to have had these special guests cycling and we are confident it will encourage enthusiastic cyclists to participate in three day packages which will encompass the experience of cycling day one and day two of The Tour de France 2014.”

The President of British Cycling and a former eight stage winner of the Tour de France took part in a special launch ride, and Malcolm is now taking bookings for packages. He’s even developed a recipe for a special cyclist-friendly trifle.

Other businesses will be hoping to follow Malcolm’s recipe to get their own slice of the Tour’s riches.

The Grand Depart challenge at the Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton

cycling insetAs a determined entrepreneur, a little thing like a hip operation wasn’t going to stop hospitality boss Malcolm Weaving turning his newest business idea into a reality.

He was on his hospital bed when the route of Le Tour Yorkshire was confirmed and – spotting that it would meander within a stone’s throw of his Skipton hotel – set about planning how best to take advantage.

Once recovered, and back on his feet, a chance encounter with two ex police officers then got things moving and the result was a new cycling package that promises to give amateurs the Tour experience.

But this wasn’t a half-baked plan, with no less than the president of British Cycling Brian Cookson and Yorkshire cycling legend Barry Hoban among the guinea pigs on the first cycling event of many at the Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton.

With BQ’s editorial team hamstrung by deadline-itis at the time, the magazine was represented by financial controller Stuart Slorach, from our parent company, the BE Group. “The enthusiasm of Malcolm is incredible,” he told us on his return.

“He is absolutely up for this like you wouldn’t believe.” Over the next 12 months, the 3-day package will alternate on weekends between long and short distances to suit all enthusiasts and offers the opportunity to cycle the first two stages of the Tour’s jaunt into Yorkshire fully supported by motorbike and car.

As Froome and co would expect, mechanical support is also provided, in this case by local cycle shop owner and former road racing cyclist David Ferguson.

On the busier stretches of road, riders couldn’t be in safer hands with two former law men providing the vehicle accompaniment. Cycol Tours was founded by Ian Johnston after over 30 years in the police force, alongside Bob Hodgson ,who has 25 years experience as an advanced police motorcyclist and as a security escort rider for heads of state and royalty.

BQ’s rep Stuart Slorach said: “The guys really made you feel part of something special. With so much buzzing around you with the cars and bikes, you really did feel like you were part of the Tour and it adds a different dimension to it.”

But even before the ride began in the early hours of a sweltering day, the Tour theme dominated.

Pasta dishes based on the famous coloured jerseys of the Tour were followed up the next morning with a ‘cyclist’s breakfast trifle’ with stewed rhubarb and prunes and greek yoghurt, and muesli soaked in orange juice or milk overnight – apparently a popular way to start a day to be spent on two wheels.

Bellies full and gears oiled, the cyclists and their entourage headed out from Skipton and hit the open road, which until Grassington was “stunning” according to Slorach. “Then there’s a decent climb from Kettlewell to Kitstones,” he continued.

“That’s quite a tough one and then you breeze through Ayrsgarth and down the valley to Hawes. That’s when you hit the serious stuff. It’s hard work from there.”

Hard work it may have been, but this band of two-wheelers then enjoyed a luxury that will not be afforded the professionals next summer – a “pretty good spread” at a bike shop / cafe in Reeth. Following this was a “long hill which they are going to love on the Tour”. Later comes a “fast section” from Leyburn to Ripon, before more gruelling uphill riding. Coming out of Pately Bridge is "pretty nasty”.

“In all it was a real challenge but really good fun. The conditions were roasting and we were absolutely fried alive.

“I’d never done a guided ride before and it was great having outriders checking what was coming up and making sure everyone was OK. Whenever there were hairy bits with vehicles on the road, they’d step in to make sure they weren’t encroaching too much.

“It also meant you didn’t have to worry about the route or dropping back because they were carrying the food, water, supplies and everything else. They also gave out masses of encouragement.”

If you think you have what it takes to take on the Grand Depart challenges, click here for more information.