Gary Verity - Promoting Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 18:16 15 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013
Gary Verity is the new chief executive of Yorkshire Tourist Board, charged with increasing the county's visitor economy and raising its international profile. Tony Greenway meets him PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOAN RUSSELL
When he was offered the role of head of Yorkshire Tourist Board, Gary Verity had to mull it over for approximately a nanosecond before he accepted. 'It was,' he says, a gleam in his eye and a BlackBerry in his hand, 'a no-brainer.'
Leeds-born and Dales-based, he now describes himself as 'the custodian of the greatest brand I know.' We are sitting in a cafe at Clarence Dock, Leeds, a week before Christmas. It's the only time spare in his diary before the holidays, so we grab the chance to spend an hour over a coffee and take some pictures (he agrees to the photography under duress).
We've arranged at 9.30am slot and get there half-an-hour early. He still beats us to it: when we arrive, he's having one of his first business meetings of the day over a cappuccino. He's dressed in a sharp suit and businessman braces. His phone rings constantly. Afterwards, he's off to various meetings in Leeds.
'No day is ever the same,' he says. 'Tomorrow the schedule looks completely different. Different people, different places.' That's how he likes it. Even though he's only been chief executive of the country's biggest tourist board for a few months I ask Gary if he's enjoying it so far. 'Yeah,' he says. 'Big style.'
Yet the job is no easy task. Working with tourism businesses, local authorities and other partners, Verity is charged with increasing Yorkshire's profile across the world and swelling the regional economy by 300 million pounds over the next three years.
The ebullient Gary, 44, seems confident and enthusiastic - a powerful mix - so if anyone can do it, he can. Verity's job would be tough enough in an upturn. But doing it in a recession must make the challenge a millions times harder.
Not surprisingly, Gary doesn't see it that way. 'At the moment, from my conversations with people, business is holding up relatively well,' he says. 'The real question is what happens next? What are the opportunities for us in 2009 against the wider economic backdrop? People are looking for greater value in their purchasing decisions now, in everything from where they get their vegetables to where they take their short breaks or main holidays. If more people stay at home, that's an opportunity for us because we're well-placed to offer good value in Yorkshire.
'Just look at our hotels and what they charge compared to hotels in other parts of the country or abroad. You do get quite a bit of bang for your buck in Yorkshire, relatively speaking.' Gary is also able to turn another negative into a positive. 'Currency fluctuations are working in our favour at the moment,' he says. 'Virtual parity with the Euro means that going to the Continent with the family is more expensive at present. 'Conversely, if you're in, say, Holland, Germany or Spain, it's very attractive to spend some of your Euros in Yorkshire. So we'll be up-scaling our international activity with that in mind.'
Gary points to a YTB Spanish campaign earlier in the year, which he thought was impressive. One thing the tourist board could improve on, he says, is social networking and digital marketing on the internet. The party line message from Gary to potential holidaymakers is: whatever your holiday question, Yorkshire has the answer with its Dales, moors, coastline, national parks and regenerated urban centres.
'We have some tremendous cities which have undergone a renaissance.' He nods out of the window at Clarence Dock. 'Look out there.We could be in Singapore or anywhere else.' No, we couldn't - it's freezing. But I take his point. Leeds has changed beyond all recognition. 'So has Sheffield,' says Gary. 'I was down there earlier last week at the Winter Gardens. Just amazing.
Sheffield is the only UK city with a national park within its boundaries. In fact - and not many people know this - a third of the city is national park.
Plus we have York and Harrogate, which are internationally recognised and renowned.'
It's not hard to see why Gary got the gig. He obviously has a good head for business and is the former group MD of Prontaprint and Kall Kwik, and former MD of Johnsons Cleaners UK; a man who ran Bradford and Bingley's retail property services for two years, achieving a turnaround from four years of losses into profit and sell off. An award-winning sheep farmer in his spare time, he describes himself as a 'career chief executive'.
'This isn't a turnaround situation, of course,' he says, referring to his new job. 'The visitor economy in Yorkshire is worth six billion pounds a year; but it is a really exciting challenge and it's come at the right time for me personally, because I need to be spending more time at home in Yorkshire.'
Gary's wife, Helen, was diagnosed with terminal cancer five years ago, and told she had 18 months to live. The couple live in Carlton in Coverdale, near Leyburn, with their five year old daughter, Lily. Over the last few years, Gary has raised more than 120,000 for Yorkshire Cancer Research. I am not sure I could remain so positive, stoic and cheerful in the face of such adversity. How does he do it? And how are the Veritys coping?
'Well, my daughter's at a great school, so that's a really positive thing,' says Gary. 'She's settled from that point of view. And, well, it's best to keep yourself busy, isn't it? If you've got a big thing to focus on, I find that quite a help. 'I do have to try and manage my time well. Helen and I spoke about this right at the start when she was diagnosed five years ago on Christmas Eve. You've got two choices: either you get on with stuff or you don't. It's pretty grim when you put it that way. So you just get on.'
Gary says his YTB role is 'a people business' and that's what he really likes. Besides all the different locations, culture, food and drink that Yorkshire offers, it's the people who bind it all together. 'And it's not just about the people who, like me, were lucky enough to be born and bred here,' he insists.
'It's also about the people who came for a year or two - for university, for example - and 10 or 20 years later are still here and could never think about living anywhere else. They're some of our greatest ambassadors. We have friends who come to stay with us who have fallen in love with the place and can't wait to come back.'
Before meeting Gary I had trawled through his press cuttings and practically every one used words such as 'motivational', 'dynamic', 'determined' and 'driven' to describe him. Does he recognise those qualities in himself, as he reluctantly poses for photographs on Clarence Dock and in the foyer of the nearby Royal Armouries.
'Those are all nice descriptions,' he laughs, 'but now you've met me you know that's all b*ll*cks.' No, actually. It sounds about right to me. www.ytb.org.uk