Welcome to Yorkshire in administration

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Colleagues may wish to note that earlier this week Welcome to Yorkshire (WtY), the County wide destination marketing body, originally formed in 2009 by the Yorkshire Regional Development Agency (Yorkshire Forward) to replace the former Yorkshire Tourist Board, went into administration. Apparently, this was precipitated by the withdrawal of substantial annual, joint local authority financial support for the private company.

Media reports suggest that the Councils in Yorkshire may now pursue the formation of a new but differently structured and funded organisation to carry out what is effectively regional (large County) level generic destination marketing and promotion, with some limited development and management functions for specific large pan-Yorkshire events and activities (I.E. Tour de Yorkshire). Clearly the administrators will also have a view and a potentially significant influence on the future of the company, its assets and any intellectual property.  

Some but not necessarily all of the Councils involved as partners with WtY, have retained their own public/private sector destination management functions and destination management and marketing organisations throughout. Usually at a scale commensurate with the relative socio-economic importance of tourism and the visitor economy to their own localities.  Notable examples, in our membership, include Scarborough BC (the Whitby to Filey coast and a large part of the North Yorkshire Moors) and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (including Bridlington, major rural coast assets, Beverly and a significant rural tourism area).

As far as we are aware, Welcome to Yorkshire is only the second major “DMO” to go into administration during the period of the pandemic.  Visit Cambridge, now reformed by a partnership of the Cambridge BID, City Council and University, being the other.  However, many destination management and destination marketing organisations, both those principally public or private sector based and/or funded, are known to remain vulnerable. This is due in large part to a combination of pandemic generated pressure on commercial revenues, inherent pre-existing tourism market failure, freeloader issues and austerity and/or doctrinal driven pressures on public funding support for non-statuary tourism services, whether those services are now largely or total internally or externally delivered. (More on market failure issues at: https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/tourism-industry-strategies-policies/market-failure-in-tourism/ ).

The failure of WtY, previously held up by some, particularly outside of Yorkshire, as an icon for the primacy of private sector models in the world of “DMOs” brings the need for a successful outcome of the English DMO review recommendations (still awaited) and a potentially reinvigorated debate about the central role of local government in supporting, if not delivering some or all key destination management functions, back into very stark focus.

The old system in England, if the myriad of by necessity locally evolved solutions and compromises can be called “a system”, is at best creaking, if not somewhat broken.  That doesn’t mean tourism isn’t being managed properly anywhere on the ground; it is in many places.  It is just that it probably could be managed far better, everywhere and done so in England more efficiently and with a far greater degree of clarity and a unity of purpose that flowed more easily down from the national level and was more constantly informed and updated upwards from the local level.

Depending on very different local circumstances now experienced, there is room and, indeed, a well-established need for both private and public sector led models (Tourism/Destination BIDs, third sector and hybrid arrangement included), very often working on different aspects of the management or marketing tasks, at different appropriate levels and preferably doing so in calibration. However, where tourism really matters, there is no room for local government, at whatever level, simply to disengage entirely in the mistaken belief that it is someone else responsibility to manage a critical local social and economic driver, or that destination marketing, albeit important, is the same thing as holistic destination management.

Marketing is a subset of management and something that can only be done well when you have successfully managed something, in this case urban places, rural areas or combinations of both, into a recognisable, well-ordered state, worthy of wider geographical, coherently structured and consistently branded, promotion. Something a mass of individual business acting alone can’t or will not do (the essence of the market failure in tourism).

Above all it is now time for the Westminster Government to acknowledge that tourism (destination) management and place management are often two sides of the same coin and unavoidably so wherever people chose to visit in any significant number.  Local Authorities have a duty to managed and develop their administrative areas. If that area happens to be, or include a significant destination then by default they must manage tourism, or risk losing control and influence on, among other things: quality of place, wellbeing and the local economy.

Uniquely, tourism as an industry is essential about the movement of people and people in any number have significant impacts on places, regardless of whether they are residents or visitors. Acknowledgement of this would at the very least, start firming up some common understanding of who’s job it is to physically manage a recognised destination, in what circumstance; albeit that it might not answer the critical question of, “how and by whom is it then to be paid for”.

I could suggest that successive Westminster Governments have perhaps dodged this issue on the grounds that if it is a publics role then it might be reasonably argued that some or all of it should be funded from the public purse? Personally, I don’t actually care from where or how it is funded, just as long as it is and that its funding streams are both adequate and robust enough to survive ebbs and flows of domestic and international tourism demand.

As an absolute minimum I think we should now all be using the recent example of Welcome to Yorkshire, as timely reminder to anyone who will listen that all is still far from well in the world of DMOs, however you might choose to define what a “DMO” is or what a “DMO” does, where and for whom.  The key message being that continuing to do nothing about the often-parlous state of destination management in England isn’t a sustainable option.

Other Home Nations have tended to taken a more structured and a more publicly minded approach to tourism support and destination management. That doesn’t necessarily mean that aspirations for good quality destination management is then always matched by the public resources available and allocated to it. Colleagues working in destination management outside England can and do face their own versions of the, who’s role and how funded dilemma. Arguable that dilemma can on occasion be adversely influence by the example and misconceptions about how things are being done more, “successfully”, elsewhere in the UK.

There are a number of short regional news report on the demise of WtY that are worth reading for information and background awareness.  A typical example is at:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-60574461

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