News - 01 May 2014

Making the Most of Our Top Tourist Destinations & Natural Attractions

The region’s tourist industry can be expanded to boost jobs and revenue. Richard Baker looks at areas to target.

TOURISM? It’s the stuff we do at weekends and holidays, isn’t it? Then we all troop back to work and get on with the serious business of doing our bit for the local economy.

Some of us will work in an industry that contributes billions to the economies of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, one that supports 65,000 jobs across the two counties and has centres of national and international significance.

Centres like the Peak District for example, a place renowned for its rugged beauty and cultural jewels that has featured in numerous costume dramas. Or the Derwent Valley Mills, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because Arkwright set up the first factory system there.

And how about Trent Bridge, ranked alongside Lord’s as an international cricketing stadium and likely to contribute the small matter of £30 million to the Notts economy through the cycle of international matches it is currently hosting? Or Browns at Holbeck in rural North Notts, one of only three Visit England Five Star bed and breakfast establishments?

So, tourism. Yes, it is the stuff we do at weekends and holidays. But it’s also an industry in its own right, one which has a track record in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that isn’t fully appreciated.

David Ralph would like to change that. The chief executive of D2N2, the Local Enterprise Partnership for Derby and Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, believes that the visitor economy has significant potential – potential which means it has been picked out as one of the foundations of the organisation’s own Strategic Economic Plan.

”It’s a significant part of our economy whether you measure it against regional or national comparisons,” he says. ”It performs over and above what you might expect and we believe it will grow more than you might expect.”

The simple target is to increase the numbers of jobs it supports by a further 20 per cent over the next few years while injecting another £1 billion into the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire economy. With the Peak District already established as a world-class visitor destination brand, it’s likely that more of the growth may come from Nottinghamshire, which currently has a visitor economy valued at more than £1.4 billion but capable of breaking through the £2 billion barrier.

While the Peak District’s international prominence shows that the visitor economy is no secret, the sheer breadth of it means that even some the businesses within it may not realise they are part of an identifiable sector.

”It’s a complicated sector which takes in everything from the likes of Center Parcs [which has its headquarters just a short distance from its Sherwood village] to small or micro-sized B&Bs,” says David. ”Not all of them recognise that they are part of the visitor economy.

”It’s a sector which also overlaps with food and drink and, of course, retail and leisure, because they are also an important part of the visitor experience and a reason for people to come here.

”In an experience of Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire all of these various facets come together. But there has perhaps been a tendency to overlook them in the past.”

If the visitor economy doesn’t look or feel homogenous, doesn’t that make it difficult to achieve the kind of progress that D2N2 would like to see? No, says David, because the revenues clearly demonstrate that the building blocks are already there.

He explains: ”How do we improve its performance? That’s very straightforward – you turn day visits into overnight stays, overnights into several days and you do it both in and off season.

”It’s not so much about trying to increase footfall during the peak, but trying to increase it in what’s known as the ‘shoulder’ – into October after the school holidays and after Christmas.”

D2N2 won’t be working alone here. Taking the lead will be two highly-respected destination management organisations, Visit Peak District and Experience Nottinghamshire.

”These are very well-run organisations and their status is recognised by VisitEngland,” says David. ”What we are doing is assisting them with their marketing, particularly around cycling.

”We’re looking at brand extension of the Peak District to see where we can add value and we have been successful in securing Arts Council funding for the Grand Tour, recognising the opportunities in visiting both cities and both counties in a single trip over a number of days.”

This isn’t just wishful thinking: the attractions are there, with museums like Derby’s Silk Mill and galleries like the award-winning Nottingham Contemporary, rural destinations like Chatsworth and the Welbeck Estate (which has a School of Artisan Food), they are supported by retail and leisure facilities of national standing, and a wide range of places to stay and eat – whether it’s an award-winning B&B, a boutique hotel, a café serving home-cooked local food or a Michelin-starred restaurant.

D2N2 intends to help B&Bs and hotels deliver the kind of customer experience to make the most of this opportunity. And, says David, it’s important for all the businesses operating in and around the visitor economy to realise there are sound economic reasons why there is an opportunity to be grasped right here on our doorstep.

He explains: ”The evidence definitely shows growth in the staycation market. For reasons we’re all familiar with, people have less money in their pockets and they may well spend what they’ve got more locally.

”But there is also an opportunity around what I’d call authenticity – people recognise authentic UK experiences in areas like food and service, and this is much stronger than it used to be.

”Travel is not just about weather. Accessibility is a factor, too, particularly if there is a lot of cost or a lot of aggro and frustration involved in getting to a destination.

”Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are within four hours of most places in the UK and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that this is the maximum amount of time people are willing to travel for short stays and holidays.”

The relentless rise of Nottinghamshire’s own Center Parcs represents a powerful example of the appeal of destinations which offer natural experiences and consistent quality in accessible UK locations. And it’s not alone.

Good quality places to stay also represent an opportunity for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, says David, while the popularity of outdoor experiences and cultural heritage plays to the key strengths of the Peak District and Sherwood Forest.

”I think recognition of the natural assets that we have here has been overlooked in some ways,” says David. ”A lot of people like living here because of the access that they have to the outdoors. The Peak District is genuinely world-class, so are places like Chatsworth. We have our existing World Heritage Site at Cromford, Creswell Crags is on UNESCO’s tentative list for future World Heritage Sites. There is all the folklore surrounding Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest. This area is actually pretty significant when you look at it in those terms.”

He points out there the area also has a wealth of attractive market towns like Buxton and Newark, both locations standing as visitor destinations in their own right with a range of culture and heritage.

In an industry which already supports 65,000 jobs, he makes a final, important point: the visitor economy in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire is substantial enough to support real career growth and development.

”This isn’t about holiday jobs,” he says. ”Tourism, hospitality, retail and leisure are industries which require specific skill sets and offer definite career paths. The further education colleges across the area recognised this a long time ago and they deliver high quality training.

”Our visitor economy already performs better than we perhaps realise and it has a range of natural assets which put us in a strong position to do well in the future. We now need to harness those opportunities.”

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