The body responsible for the Yorkshire Dales National Park could never replicate the work of Welcome to Yorkshire in bringing visitors to the area, a meeting has heard days before meetings to determine the tourism body’s future are held.
David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, told a meeting of its audit committee Welcome to Yorkshire’s role in developing a £374m tourism economy which employed some 4,400 full-time equivalent posts across the 2,179sq km area in 2019, has been “immense”.
Mr Butterworth was speaking after being consulted by Welcome to Yorkshire, alongside other national park and local authority leaders, over its future ahead of a meeting of Yorkshire Leaders’ Board on November 18.
It is expected council leaders will decide whether to spend taxpayers’ money taking Welcome to Yorkshire or a new tourism body into public ownership following a series of controversies.
Ahead of the meeting some North Yorkshire council leaders have privately said they believe a single tourism body to represent the entire region was necessary if the tourism-dependent area was to bounce back after being severely hit by the pandemic.
The park authority’s deputy chief executive, Gary Smith, said freshly published data tourism impact data for 2020 showed takings for businesses in the national park were on average down 49 per cent on the year before, when the park received a total of 4.7 million visitors.
The meeting heard the extent of the sector’s recovery this year would not be known until next autumn, but a surge in car parking takings had indicated tourism had significantly picked up, encouraged by the latest All Creatures Great and Small television series and “endless Channel 5 documentaries about the Dales”.
Member Ian Mitchell, who manages a pub in Dent, told the meeting the village had broken its record for car parking takings, some five months before the end of the financial year.
Richard Good, a former Yorkshire Dales guesthouse owner and Arkengarthdale councillor, added the tourism body had “done great things” to bring visitors to the area and that it would be a shame to lose it or not have something like it.
However, he said there was concern Welcome to Yorkshire was focusing discussions about its future with local authorities rather than businesses.
Mr Butterworth replied: “That’s the only way they can see future funding coming into an organisation.”
He told the committee the meeting the prevailing issue facing the authority over the future of Welcome to Yorkshire was whether there would be any destination management organisation (DMO) covering the Yorkshire region.
Mr Butterworth said: “Certainly in my mind there should, because the value that they have brought to the region as a whole has been immense.
“My worry is that we might end up with the old situation where there’s a North Yorkshire DMO, one in West Yorkshire, one on the coast etc.
“It just gets split and fragmented.
“The value that they brought to use was regional, national, international, then it’s up to our own businesses to take advantage of that.
“All the interest that has come about the Dales in the last ten or 15 years – it’s been very significant and still is – Welcome to Yorkshire had a lot to do with that.
“Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing that’s a different question, but there’s no doubt that we could never ever in any circumstances replicate the amount of resources that they’ve put in from our own budgets.”