In a time of economic crisis, Cheshire’s tourism industry bosses gathered to discuss the challenges ahead. BARRY ELLAMS reports on a sector braced for change
WALT Disney, the godfather of 20th century film and tourism, set the tone for the fourth AGM of tourism board Visit Chester and Cheshire held at the five-star Grosvenor hotel.
Julie Dalton, managing director of Gulliver’s World, borrowed the American’s phrase: “All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”
Those in the tourist trade who take risks, invest in the era of credit crunch, work with industry partners, improve quality in all aspects of business and be imaginative could be the success stories of 2009 and beyond.
Chris Brown, chief executive of Visit Chester and Cheshire, believes stakeholders have to be aspirational, especially at a time when economic forecasts are gloomy.
He said: “We have to think of the glass as half full to ensure that we as a destination think about the period we are entering into.”
“There is no doubt that next year will be tougher. Businesses will have to be more astute and think about bringing added value.
He added: “We go forward as an organisation positive about recognising the opportunities that we have to meet.
He gave particular praise to those “businesses that are not standing still.”
The AGM focused on two Cheshire enterprises, Gulliver’s World in Warrington and Ness Botanical Gardens, that had embraced 2008 with a spirit of enterprise and joined-up thinking.
Julie Dalton argued that to make customers part with “the leisure pound” attractions must “delight customers”
She warned a packed meeting not to take the easy option by offering low budget or discount alternatives.
She added: “Don’t cut the staff budget. Training is what will make us strong as an industry.”
The AGM highlighted success stories including Cheshire: Year of Gardens, rural projects, PR and VCC membership growth.
Hotel occupancy in Cheshire rose by 5% in a year. Cheshire Year of Gardens has rivalled Liverpool Capital of Culture with some aggressive branding. Figures revealed that CYOG stimulated 5% growth on footfall figures between January and July with £2million worth of PR generated so far.
The county has seen huge investment in hotels, conferencing, hospitality, rural escapes, food and drink from the £26million refurbishment to Hoole Hall Hotel to equestrian holidays in Millmoor Farm, Malpas.
The global financial crisis poses obvious problems to VCCs mission to transform Cheshire into a world class destination by 2015 but also offers an opportunity for businesses to work hand in hand. The Gardens of Distinction campaign is testament to the success of themed partnerships, and business clusters working to benefit like-minded enterprise.
Chris Brown believes clustering of business with joint interests forges a wider and more potent identity for Cheshire
He said: “Visitor economy encapsulates everything, tourism is a term that ends up in a box.
With spas, food and drink, horse riding, castles, narrowboats and the Sandstone Trail, Cheshire has a powerful grip on the “leisure pound” – but the fingers of the hand must grasp together.
Mr Brown believes “sustainability” is the watchword, claiming “We still haven’t got it yet in terms of linking it to the economic angle.”
While access to airports remains an obstacle, access to the city itself will be overhauled on January 26, 2009, when a daily fleet of 13 Virgin Voyager trains travelling from London Euston Station pull into Chester.
The high speed trains will bring Milton Keynes within 90 minutes of Chester which, according to Virgin, is “the most historic destination with international appeal along the West Coast line”
Virgin and VCC are targeting Milton Keynes with a vigorous Easter campaign to bring families for day trips and weekend breaks.
Chris Gibbons chief operating officer said: “No-one in Milton Keynes would have dreamed of coming to Chester at the moment. “There is a challenge to fill off-peak seats which is where you the operators come in.”
Virgin Trains have pledged significant investment into their Chester fleet and have already signed up to The Chester Gateway Project.
From January, Virgin will have uniformed staff greeting newcomers to Chester Station but the city also has to rise to the occasion by welcoming them in style as it enters an era where first impressions count like never before.