Sunshine after the rain

Sunshine after the rain

Yorkshire tourism boss Gary Verity tells BQ why the future remains bright despite clouds looming overhead.

NEWS that Yorkshire was last year shortlisted twice alongside the likes of New York and Australia as having the world’s best tourist board came like a ray of sunshine in what was largely a washout of a summer.

Then, in the glittering surrounds of the World Travel Awards in Doha last month, the force behind the county’s tourism drive – Welcome to Yorkshire – landed the award for the best marketing campaign.

Despite looming cuts to Welcome to Yorkshire’s (WTY) budget, the group continues to show that Yorkshire can hold its own against some of the world’s most exotic – and economically influential – tourism hotspots.

This year the end of public funding for the organisation in spring will be juxtaposed with what promises to be a hugely lucrative summer for Yorkshire tourism businesses as thousands of Olympians and their fans head to these shores.

In the meantime, chief executive Gary Verity is tasked with developing a new business plan which is built on membership subscription revenues as well as continuing to promote the excellent work of the organisation.

This year has seen political figures in Yorkshire continue to bang the drum for more support from Westminster akin to the tens of millions of pounds spent from the public purse in Scotland on boosting visitor numbers there.

Time will tell whether the likes of Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams and Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon, will succeed in lobbying for more support for the estimated 25,000 tourism-reliant businesses in Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, reflecting on 2011 and looking forward to a busy year ahead, Verity told BQ that gloom around the sector in Yorkshire is unjustified with the industry well positioned to pull through the difficult months ahead relatively unscathed.

“We know from talking to colleagues across the country that we are outperforming the rest of the UK. I get calls regularly from the rest of the UK saying we wish we could have done what you guys have done and had the same results.”

He accepts that, while visitor numbers are up – particularly in indoor attractions given the sunshine shortage of the summer – spending is not, amid soaring unemployment and widespread uncertainty among those in employment. However, the cost of holidaying in Europe, means holidays at home remain in the ascendancy.

“The staycation seems to still be on the rise. I’m looking at forward bookings for 2012 and they are very strong so for a whole variety of reasons the staycation will be very much with us for some time to come.”

For younger generations, perhaps the biggest draw to Yorkshire in the summer is the ever-popular Leeds Festival, the most prominent of hundreds of festivals which take place in the county throughout the year.

Nationwide, 30 major summer music events were cancelled in 2011, with many commentators warning that the UK festivals market is now saturated and facing decline.

“This hasn’t affected Yorkshire,” says Verity, who cites the fact that close to 75,000 music lovers braved the elements at the Leeds Festival as a major reason to be cheerful in the Yorkshire festivals market.

The ongoing success of such mass visitor events will be imperative once public funding sources to WTY dry up in April. In an earlier interview with BQ, Verity set out a target of getting as close to 6,000 members as possible and has since seen largely positive early signs.

“We are delighted with the response we have had from members and potential members. It seems to be positive and people seem to think we are doing a good job.”

Recent months have seen Verity locked in negotiations with those in control of European purse strings in the hope of gaining extra backing. “Talks are still ongoing and there is quite a detailed piece of work being put together between ourselves and other organisations to take that forward,” he said.

Returning to the Olympics, as well as hosting training facilities for competitors, WTY’s focus is now on “making sure we are firmly on the agenda for travel agents for visitors coming here for the Olympics and booking group tours across the country.”

In the afterglow of the hugely successful Yorkshire-set Jane Eyre movie and landmark celebrations such as the 800th Anniversary of the charter of York, it appears many Yorkshire tourism bosses have reason to share Verity’s optimism during 2012.