In 2012, I was appointed as a non-executive director to the board of Northumberland Tourism, the destination marketing body responsible for promoting Northumberland as a place to visit.
I was asked to get involved primarily to help provide inspiration and practical support to the Northumberland Tourism in-house management team with particular responsibility for marketing. And also for my transformational travel and tourism marketing campaign experience across North East England, including Passionate People, Passionate places, DFDS Seaways cruise ferries, ATOL protected holidays and the World Travel and Tourism Council, amongst others. I was happy to do so.
At d.fferent, we dedicate five per cent of our time to worthy causes to change things for the better as part of our brand d.fferent outcome. And also, for me as an adopted Northerner (from Surrey) this was unfinished business – promoting my favourite county as a unique place to visit, following on from the ‘Passionate’ brand campaign for North East England I’d nurtured since 2006.
2012 was a tough time for tourism.
A hard-pressed British public was struggling to afford a holiday at all, despite all the talk of ’stay-ification’ holidaying at home in the UK. And visitor wallets and purses weren’t the only victims of the financial crisis, marketing budgets and tourism development funding were being cut left, right and centre by austerity government policies.
We hunkered down and reviewed Northumberland’s story and visitor experience. A clear purpose was the first port of call.
Why does Northumberland tourism even exist?
We identified the visitor economy is hugely important to the economic wellbeing of Northumberland. The £730 million injected into the economy in 2013 by over 8.8m visitors provided 13,200 full time jobs. But the benefits of a prosperous tourism industry are not just economic. Sensible and sustainable management of the assets enjoyed by visitors, from beautiful landscapes and signature attractions to walking paths and clean beaches, also helps make Northumberland a place that our residents can both enjoy and be proud of. So the brand purpose and unifying cause was clear; ‘helping provide prosperity from tourism for all’.
A brand story and expression was created and life breathed into it – ‘Northumberland, the destination where independent spirit comes to life’. We defined 4 key pillars; Adventure, People, Space and Culture.
Next we reviewed from top to bottom what to ‘stop, start and continue’ doing for long term success. We engaged more closely with local tourism businesses throughout the county to find out how we could help them actually get ‘more from less’, by working smarter and more collaboratively. And set ourselves a target of growing (yes growing) tourism in Northumberland against this backdrop by 6% within 3 years. You can see our long term Northumberland tourism plan at the link.
And I’m pleased to say that while there is much still to do, we are very much on track so far. Northumberland’s tourism industry has exceeded its target to grow tourism by six per cent in three years. From 2011 to 2014, the value of tourism to the local economy increased by 8.4 per cent, from £706 million in 2011 to £765.1 mllion in 2014 – well over the target of £749.2million.
VisitNorthumberland.com received more than one-million unique visitors in 2014 for the first time, receiving the millionth visitor on Christmas Day. Demand for the printed 2014 Northumberland Holiday and Short Breaks Guide was so high that stocks ran out early, resulting in 20,000 extra copies of the 2015 Guide being printed to satisfy demand.
We’re currently working on attracting votes to make Northumberland Britain’s favourite travel destination at the British Travel Awards 2015. Wew came second to Cornwall last year, we aim to go a step further this time. You can help by voting.
And long term, these are areas that we will all concentrate on and have been identified as having the greatest benefit for Northumberland if they are developed.
Our action plan will include actions in other areas, but these are the key priorities for development, promotion or in many cases, both.
- Heritage (including Christian Heritage)
- Northumbrian Culture
- Cycling and Walking
- Landscapes and unique/rare wildlife;
nature based tourism
- Events – a few authentic and inspirational
signature events plus a wide range of
- Dark Skies
- Out of season offer
- Food and Drink
Long live the independent spirit!
by Ben Quigley