Mike Newby - former mayor joins Visit Harrogate
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 November 2014
We catch up with Harrogate's new tourism chief to find out what's happening this holiday season
If anyone deserves the title ‘Mr Harrogate’, it’s Mike Newby. The former mayor, who attended more than 500 events during his year in office (including abseiling down Brimham Rocks and chopping up a giant cabbage at the Autumn Flower Show), is now director of Visit Harrogate – and he loves it.
‘I feel very, very lucky,’ he said. ‘But I suppose you could say that being mayor of the district was a 12-month apprenticeship for this job. I spent my year promoting the district and welcoming visitors, so there’s a pleasing natural continuation. My only regret is that I didn’t factor in any time off in between. I handed over the mayoral chain, had a quick weekend in Barcelona and then got straight back to it.’
While being mayor made him Harrogate’s official cheerleader – a role he took to with enthusiasm and aplomb – his new job at the helm of the district’s tourism organisation puts him under more pressure to deliver dual growth in visitor numbers and visitor spend to boost both the district’s profile and economy.
‘There is much more at stake with this role,’ said Mike. ‘At Visit Harrogate, we are entrusted with the job of improving the visitor economy while promoting the district locally, nationally and internationally. There’s much more responsibility and accountability.’
If anyone can do it though, Mike can. He proved he had broad shoulders and an infectious positivity during his year as mayor, drawing plaudits from all quarters. Karen Weaver, chief executive of Harrogate and Ripon Centre for Voluntary Service, described him as ‘always so friendly and chatty with people; Mike always makes people feel appreciated for what they do’. While Anne Alblas, home visiting manager for his mayoral charity Supporting Older People, said ‘you can just see that people love him; the warmth from him is very obvious’.
And Fiona Movley, chairman of Harrogate International Festivals, heaped praise on both Mike and his mayoral consort Clive: ‘They have been just what Harrogate needed and have done everything with the utmost commitment, enthusiasm and fun. It’s apt that Harrogate was voted the happiest place to live while Mike was mayor.’
Visit Harrogate has already achieved a great deal in its first full year of promoting the town and the wider district, including Masham, Pateley Bridge, Boroughbridge, Ripon and Knaresborough. It has launched a photo wall in the baggage reclaim area at Leeds Bradford Airport; distributed 55,000 copies of its visitor guide brochure nationwide; has logged a record 22,000 unique monthly web visits to its online information hub; and created a Conference Desk system to manage event inquiries and maximise opportunities for local businesses.
As its new full-time director, Mike is tasked with raising the district’s profile still further, building on the momentum garnered by the summer’s wildly successful Grand Depart of the Tour de France, and to ensure that tourism remains a key element of the economy, boosting the coffers of local businesses while maximising the leisure experience for visitors.
‘The Tour certainly helped us make an impact nationally and internationally and ensured that more people are switched on to Harrogate than ever before,’ said Mike. ‘People from 150 countries have visited our website and we’re working hard to translate those clicks into actual visits to the district.’
Harrogate looks set for a bumper Christmas this year as a result of the positive publicity that accompanied the Tour and the solid groundwork of the tourism team. But what should festive visitors expect?
‘One thing that’s really taken off in recent years is the Christmas Market,’ said Mike. ‘We now have upwards of 200 stalls, all specialising in Yorkshire produce. It’s very different to a great many festive markets because it’s full of unexpected treats. As is the Montpellier Quarter, which is packed with independent shops and has surprises round every corner.’
Mike is still very much a newbie (as well as a Newby) at Visit Harrogate but, let’s say two years down the line, how will he gauge whether his time at the helm has been a success.
‘I’ll be able to gauge my success – and the success of all the team at Visit Harrogate – on visitor numbers,’ he said. ‘I’m also very keen to see an increase in partnership working. All visitor-related businesses in the district have the same goal, but not everyone is currently pulling in the same direction to achieve it. Two years down the line, I want to feel a greater sense of partnership. The natural consequence of which will be more visitors who stay for longer and spend more.’
A happy prospect indeed.