Welcome to Harrogate - new tourism body plans to bring more people to the town

PUBLISHED: 09:37 12 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:20 20 February 2013

Pump Room Museum

Pump Room Museum

How's Harrogate's new tourism body going to bring more people to town? Jo Haywood finds out. Photos by John Cocks

Tourism is big business in Harrogate, bringing in more than 678 million to the local economy in visitor spend and supporting somewhere in the region of 23,000 jobs, but it could be even bigger.

A lot of people come to Harrogate, but we want them to stay longer and spend more, said leading local businessman Peter McCormick OBE, the first non-executive chairman of Welcome to Harrogate.

First mooted by Wallace Sampson, chief executive of the borough council, this new private sector-led organisation, first launched in April, has been designed to emulate the results achieved regionally, nationally and internationally by Welcome to Yorkshire.

The council has contributed 50,000 to help with initial set up costs but Peter and his team must also secure match-funding from private sector businesses and organisations large and small across the district who share their passion for promoting the area as a world-class place to live, learn, work, visit and invest.

Were hoping to start pushing out our Visit Harrogate brand early next year, said Peter. With the support of local businesses and residents, I can see no reason why we shouldnt push it internationally. Our tourism offering is so substantial theres no reason to limit our ambitions to this country.

This is an extremely beautiful part of the world with fantastic scenery and incredible visitor attractions in all directions. Its not a difficult sell as long as we all speak with one voice.

When hes not heading up the corporate and commercial team as senior partner of McCormicks Solicitors of Harrogate, Peters an internationally recognised expert in sports, media and entertainment law, perhaps best known as the chairman of the Premier Leagues legal advisory group.

Hes also a leading figure in charities law, advising, among others, the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme; chairman of Yorkshire Young Achievers Foundation; and a trustee of the National Media Museum in Bradford, the Helen Feather Memorial Trust and the John Strutt Memorial Trust.

And now, of course, hes chairing Welcome to Harrogate, where hes been joined round the table by a hand-picked board offering a diverse spread of experience and knowledge. The eight members are councillors Caroline Bayliss and Pat Marsh, managing director of Rudding Park Peter Banks, chief executive of Harrogate International Festival Sharon Canavar, operations manager for Provenance Inns Kate Robey, head of Ripon Museums Trust Sue Dalton, president of Harrogate Chamber of Trade & Commerce Sandra Doherty and Chris MacKenzie, managing partner of PR firm The Whole Caboodle.

Our aim is to cover the entire Harrogate district, Peter explained. From Harewood to Harrogate town centre, and from Masham to Skipton. Its one of the biggest districts in the country and has a considerable tourist offering, which were determined to make the most of.

The district has so much to offer, with a great many people doing their utmost to ensure its success, but what has been lacking up to now is one local overarching body to bring all the elements together. The Welcome to Harrogate board is currently trying to recruit its first chief executive to take the helm and achieve some much-needed cohesion. But its not easy to find someone with enough passion and drive to make Visit Harrogate an internationally recognised brand.

We need someone with a unique combination of management and direct selling skills, said Peter. Someone to project our brand locally, nationally and internationally.

They will inevitably become Mr or Mrs Harrogate a mini Gary Verity (the ebullient and seemingly omnipresent chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire) and thats not a role that would suit everyone.

But with the right person in charge, Welcome to Harrogate hopes its Visit Harrogate brand will achieve great things, attracting higher numbers of visitors, who stay for longer and spend more at the numerous attractions, restaurants, stores, hotels, bars and spas.

At the moment, people come to town for a conference and leave immediately afterwards, said Peter. Or they take advantage of our great hotel rates but head off every day to Scarborough or York.

We want them to recognise that Harrogate and the surrounding district have a rich and diverse tourism offering, and that everything they could possibly want is right here.

Gold award

Harrogate scooped Gold in the Small City category at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Britain in Bloom National Awards for 2012. RHS Britain in Bloom is the biggest voluntary campaign in the UK and works to improve peoples lives through its community gardening campaign.

Matt Baker, presenter of BBC TVs The One Show, hosted the RHS Britain in Bloom Award Ceremony held in St Peter Port, Guernsey and attended by 450 community gardening champions.

RHS Judge, Jim Goodwin, said: Harrogate has an excellent floral pedigree and it is developing a good balance between the traditional horticultural displays for which it is noted and more permanent sustainable plantings. The town has a wonderful, well managed tree-scape and many attractive open spaces.

The voluntary Harrogate in Bloom group is working well, in partnership with the local council and businesses to embrace the three core pillars of the competition. Engagement with a range of community/Friends of groups is seeing valuable environmental improvements. It was most pleasing to see the excellent facilities in Valley Gardens being so well used.

Getting there: Harrogate is just 15 miles from Leeds and 20 from York via the A1 and A58. The towns railway station links the area to the rest of the railway network, with East Coast Main Line running a regular service to Kings Cross. Local bus services are run by Harrogate & District with additional services provided by WYMetro, West Yorkshire Buses, First Group, Dalesbus and the community transport service Little Red Bus.

Parking: Theres a good range of on-street parking with additional long-stay spaces at Jubilee, Victoria and West Park.

Where to visit:
Before you head to Bettys, which everyone does eventually, you could squeeze in a trip to the Royal Pump Room, Valley Gardens, Harlow Carr, the Mercer Gallery and all those fantastic shops (if youre heading Harrogate, dont forget your wallet).

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