Welcome to Yorkshire and tourism need Government support – Alex Sobel

The Grand Départ of the Tour de France started in Leeds in 2014 and was a high point for Welcome to Yorkshire.The Grand Départ of the Tour de France started in Leeds in 2014 and was a high point for Welcome to Yorkshire.
The Grand Départ of the Tour de France started in Leeds in 2014 and was a high point for Welcome to Yorkshire.
SIX years ago, I was one of the thousands of enthusiastic spectators watching the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in Leeds city centre, just three miles from my house.

It felt at the time that this was a fresh beginning for Yorkshire, an opportunity for our tourism industry and our region at large to boom. Fast forward to 2020 and that optimism has been driven out by Covid-19.

Welcome to Yorkshire, the destination management organisation (DMO) famed for bringing the Tour here, recently confirmed that it is laying off staff after a £1.4m call to Yorkshire’s local authorities for emergency funding.

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While most councils have been sympathetic, some have concerns over Welcome to Yorkshire’s internal problems of recent years, leading them to question whether or not they’ll provide funding – at least not without stringent preconditions.

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel is the Shadow Tourism and Heritage Minister.Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel is the Shadow Tourism and Heritage Minister.
Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel is the Shadow Tourism and Heritage Minister.

While these are legitimate concerns and they must be part of the discussion, in the longer term trust must be rebuilt. I’m worried that focus on the mismanagement of a previous administration risks missing the bigger picture.

Is Welcome to Yorkshire the canary in the coalmine of the tourism industry? And are we in danger of the collapse of these organisations around the country and if so, how do we fix it and who must take responsibility?

The coronavirus pandemic has hit hard almost every sector in society. My office routinely deals with cases of businesses who are now on their knees, desperately trying to keep the lights on. This includes well publicised businesses such as shops and cafes, but also nurseries, hospices, dentists and newspapers.

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Where the tourism industry is unique is that it is seasonal and coronavirus biting during the spring and summer months has meant that they will have three back to back winters – last winter, next winter and the so-called ‘Covid winter’.

James Mason is the new chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.James Mason is the new chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.
James Mason is the new chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

Combine this with the knock-on effect of loss of income from managed reopenings, distrust in public transport and a declining economy, it is no wonder therefore that we are seeing Welcome to Yorkshire being forced to lay off staff.

Shortly before Welcome to Yorkshire’s funding call, they produced a ‘reopen, recover and rebuild’ strategy to save Yorkshire’s £9bn tourism industry. This included localised support for businesses, measures to increase consumer spending and a national marketing campaign to bring tourism back to the region.

This is important work and Welcome to Yorkshire and their counterparts across the country have the experience and local network to put a workable plan into action. What they need is more support and this is where the Government must step in

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This is why I am now calling on the Government to support Welcome to Yorkshire and all our destination management organisations. Ministers have the opportunity to provide support that will allow DMOs on the ground to, in turn, support their members and the industry at large. This would, and should, have the added benefit of bringing opportunities to creatives and freelancers, three million of whom have found themselves outside of any of the government support schemes.

A welcome example of Government support is the cut to VAT until January – this is good news for the industry and it should be welcomed. As should various sector specific schemes such as the zoo support fund. The ‘eat out to help out’ scheme is also welcome to many, though questions have been asked about whether the reality measures up to the headline.

But the Government must go further. We need measures to protect tourism jobs. The job retention scheme must continue and be targeted at those in most need – this will address the flawed one size fits all approach.

Labour is calling for a £1.7bn hospitality and high streets fightback fund to help those pubs, bars, hotels and other businesses who are struggling or unable to reopen. And we want to see regional economic plans in place to help the areas that have seen the biggest drops in consumer spending.

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As the old adage goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. We can’t risk that happening. The collapse of Yorkshire’s tourism industry would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and we would also feel the intangible loss of the optimism and spirit that the grand depart gave us in 2014. Yorkshire and Britain need its tourism industry and the vital role it plays in our economy.

The Government has the power to save it and must do so.

Alex Sobel is Labour MP for Leeds North West and Shadow Minister for Tourism and Heritage.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson

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