Chairman of Visit York tourism bureau, John Yeomans on life in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:01 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013
John Yeomans, chairman of Visit York tourism bureau, tell us about his Yorkshire life PHOTOGRAPH BY IAN CLELAND
Would you like John Yeomans' job? It sounds rather nice at first, chairman of the new Visit York tourism bureau, the private-public partnership charged with bringing all the disparate strands of York's tourism industry together. But think about it. As soon as the public realises what you do, they must mercilessly bend your ear about all kinds of things, many of which are nothing to do with you. Do they accost John at cocktail parties and yell: 'Those toilets are a disgrace! And what about the car parking charges?'
'Once you get past some moans about toilets, car-parking and litter, which we're working very hard to resolve, by the way, you do get to the positives,' he says. 'And in York there are a lot of positives.' Yep. The history, the attractions, the independent shopping names, the picturesque and dinky streets, the Minster, the cafes and bars... you get the general idea.
York has many upsides, all things considered. This is possibly why it won Best UK City in the Telegraph Travel Awards 2007 and European Tourism City of the Year 2007. John, who is senior partner of Harrowell Shaftoe solicitors, was born and bred in the place (he was educated at St Peter's) and passionate about his home turf, so he's a good man for the job. Married to Diana and with three children and three grandchildren, he seems to be enjoying his Yorkshire life immensely.
Q: Has York changed very much since you were a boy?
A: Enormously, and for the good. It used to be a poor city but it's grown in population and we have such diversity here.Walk around the streets these days and you'll hear lots of different languages, not just from visitors but from residents and students too.
Q: Why do people like York so much? No-one has ever said to me: 'You live in York? What a dump!' They always say: 'Do you? It's beautiful.'
A: I think it's the scale of the city. Nothing is too big or too far away. It's beautiful. It's enchanting. I think it's also something to do with the welcoming nature of the people.
Q: You've been chairman of Visit York for seven months now. Has it been an eye-opening experience?
A: Well, the eye-opening part for me was the statistics: the York tourism economy brings in 364 million, and over four million people come here every year. There are 10,000 people directly employed in the tourism sector, and a lot more indirectly. It just goes to show that getting tourism right is for the benefit of everybody.
Q: What's the best thing about your role at Visit York?
A: It's a completely new experience for me after working in law for 35 years, although I do continue to do that job. At Visit York I work with such a variety of good people and businesses - retailers, airlines, bus companies, railway companies, racecourses - the list is endless.
Q: Yes, but as you say, you're still working in law, you're now in tourism, and we've seen you out and about in the evenings at various functions and events. Isn't it exhausting?
A: Ha ha! At the moment, I find it invigorating! But ask me in three years time.
Q: Here's your starter for 10. Do you think York's Barbican Centre will ever open again? (This is - or was - the city's premier entertainment venue, which was closed in 2000, sold to a developer and has lain dormant for the last eight years, much to the anger of some York residents).
A: It will, in some form or other, because it has to. It's been sold to the private sector, so commercially some solution will have to be found. Visit York has no direct status in relation to the matter. The present position is a real disappointment because it is losing business to the city, so urgent action is needed. But Visit York is not directly capable of being involved. And I can't speculate about it.
Q: Is York well-equipped to survive the credit crunch?
A: It's one of the most successful visitor economies in the UK so tourist-wise, we're as well-placed as anybody. As far as the city as a whole is concerned, I think we are. We've developed a knowledge-based economy here, and have considerable strength in that area. The city generates 1,500 new jobs per year so we should be able to survive well. But we shouldn't be complacent in a world where Lehman Brothers can collapse and HBOS can disappear.
Q: What things could York could do better in the future?
A: The city needs to make key decisions about what it wants to be like in 10, 15 or 20 years time. So it should think about itself a bit more and be more aspirational. York doesn't like to shout about itself. That's a Yorkshire thing. It also needs a night-time economy so the city doesn't appear to close at 5pm. There's no single magic bullet with this unfortunately. Because York is the size it is, people naturally go home at tea-time.
Q: Do you have a favourite place in Yorkshire? You're going to say York aren't you?
A: Well, I like to walk around York in the early evening or early morning.Why? Peace; church-bells ringing and people going about their business. I can take in the atmosphere. It's terrific.
Q: I know what you mean. I go in then because there are no tourists about. Oops, I shouldn't have said that to you, of all people. Well, moving on. Do you have a favourite place to eat out in Yorkshire?
A: The Fairfax Arms at Gilling East.We like that one.
Q: Your favourite Yorkshire view?
A: Ask me that a while ago and I'd have said 'the top of Almscliffe Crag'. Now, though, it's Robin's Top. If you go to the top of Boltby Bank and look to the left, you'll see a footpath that goes along the Cleveland Way. Up there, you'll find some buildings and a clump of trees. The view from there is stunning: over the Vale of York and towards the Pennines.
Q: A favourite shop in Yorkshire?
A: Mulberry Hall. I know you're going to point out 'that's in York'; so I'll just say that Harvey Nichols in Leeds is a strong second. It's pretty amazing that Mulberry Hall is my favourite shop, though, because when I go in I'm always buying presents and spending money on someone else. But I like the ambience of the place.
Q: Is there anything you don't like about Yorkshire?
Q: Oh, go on. There must be something that irritates.
A: Ah! I know. The congestion on the M62. The M62 always catches me out. I think: 'This time it'll be OK!' And it never is. You can't rely on it.
Q: Could you live anywhere else. If so, where?
A: It would probably be Capel Curig in North Wales which has a wonderful view of Snowden; or Noosa, north of Brisbane, on the East Coast of Australia. Marvellous.
Q: What's the best thing about living in Yorkshire?
A: The people. They are unique, terrifically warm, self-deprecating, understated and totally un-impressible.