Authentic experiences key to boosting income from tourism, says Dales marketeer

Susan Briggs with her springer spaniels in Coverdale.

Income from tourism in the Yorkshire countryside could be boosted if rural businesses capitalise on a growing desire for authentic experiences.

That was the message from Yorkshire Dales marketeer Susan Briggs at a meeting of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, held at Pavilions of Harrogate on the Great Yorkshire Showground.

Addressing the theme of bringing pride and profit back to Yorkshire’s rural communities, Ms Briggs said there remained vast untapped potential for countryside tourism.

Rural Yorkshire boasted an authentic sense of community and place which increasingly appealed to tourists from urban areas that ‘lacked soul’, and who are keen to get closer to the countryside, she said.

Masham-based Ms Briggs, who is director of The Tourism Network, said: “Tourists are really looking for something different to their everyday. They want stories to take home.

“As rural businesses, we can make something of this and so we have to really make sure that we maintain and enhance our sense of place, our local distinctiveness.”

The distinctiveness of Yorkshire’s countryside communities came in many forms, she said, from their characterful locals and dry stone walls to the stories behind quality, locally produced food and drink.

Yet some people are afraid to visit the countryside because they do not understand what it offers.

To attract those people, the wealth of experiences, the rich sense of community and the great places to eat and drink needed to be made clear, she said.

“The key is to tell people what to do and the reasons to visit,” the tourism expert said.

“A lot of people don’t know what to do in the countryside.”

Ms Briggs lived and worked in London for 20 years before she returned to her native Yorkshire. She has spent more than 30 years working in tourism and runs two established tourism networks that combined represent 1,000 rural businesses.

Challenging holiday accommodation providers to identify new sources of income, she said there is huge marketing potential in offering bespoke experiences to visitors.

Ms Briggs highlighted how Airbnb has extended its offer to ‘experiences’ and that rural holiday hosts could capitalise on this because the reality of life in the countryside is so different from living in towns and cities.

“So much of what you do is really ordinary to you, but it isn’t to so many people,” she said. “People will pay to do things we do every day because they don’t have your normal life. A lot of people will pay for things we are not even thinking about yet.

“Because of the internet it’s become possible. Anyone can access that market so long as they have the ideas.”

Yorkshire’s countryside can capitalise on being in the centre of England as a place for family celebrations as well as upon forthcoming television and film exposure, she said.

A new TV series of All Creatures Great and Small is mainly being shot in and around Skipton for Channel 5, while scenes for a film remake of The Secret Garden are being shot in the North York Moors.

“We need to use that awareness of the Yorkshire countryside,” Ms Briggs said. “We have places that make people feel healthier. We have a propensity to happiness because of our more active lives.

“There has to be a bit of a revolution, an uprising, to say we are here and we have something valuable.”

She said there could be a snowball effect that boosts income from rural tourism if communities and businesses act collectively.

Kate Dale, co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, which is supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to provide support to the farming community, said: “We need to stop underselling ourselves as rural businesses and have the confidence to believe that others are prepared to pay for much of what we all take for granted.

“At the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, we are determined to help the farming community feel empowered and emboldened about the opportunities that exist for rural businesses and so we will continue to offer a platform to innovative thinkers like Susan to reach out and inspire others.”