The virtual Visit York Tourism Conference event opened this morning to 264 delegates, with this year’s theme exploring ‘tourism in a post-pandemic world’. Make It York’s Managing Director, Sarah Loftus, opened proceedings by asking ‘What kind of Tourism do we what for York’? We must think big, be ambitious and build on the strength York has achieved to date. We have the ability to build something very special as, after all we have been voted the best City in the UK.”

After a challenging 22 months for the tourism industry, Sarah Loftus shared a six minute showreel to highlight the key milestones achieved by Visit York and their members during the pandemic. Visit York have supported over 850 members in 2021/22 to date, with a 94% retention rate. In 2019, York attracted 8.4 million visitors who spent £909 million and supported 28,400 jobs. The overarching message from Make It York is “our goal is to work collaboratively to drive York’s visitor economy forwards... and get back to these pre-Covid figures”.

Introduced by BBC Look North’s Clare Frisby, Richard Nicholls, Head of Research and Forecasting at VisitBritain, was the first guest speaker to present to VYCON delegates. Richard focused on ‘Inbound tourism prospects and trends’ and opened his presentation with some insights on the effect Omicron has had on inbound international flight bookings: You can see here very clearly the impact of Omicron. Back in October, early November, the inbound flight bookings had started to recover. This chart here shows flight bookings in each week, indexed to 2 years before, the pre-Covid norm, and that was back up to about –40% or so at the high point last Autumn. 40% below what we would see at normal levels. You can see it plunge down to -83% just before Christmas. It just started to pick up slightly in the week post-Christmas... and we hope that will be a sign of an improvement in the booking situation as we head into 2022.”

Richard Nicholls also shared some research from tourism economics who are “forecasting it will take until 2025, before we surpassed the 2019 levels of inbound tourism, either volume or in this case, value. And bear in mind that there's going to be inflation over this period, perhaps if you adjust for inflation, it might take a little bit longer still, so a slow build back.”  

Graph - Visit Britain

In Autumn 2020, Make it York commissioned Group NAO to elaborate on how York’s visitor economy could ‘build back better’ post pandemic. Peter Rømer Hansen talked delegates through their “5 dogmas for the new visitor economy: the city belongs to the citizens, growth in visitor numbers is not a goal in itself, tourism can be a regenerative resource, leadership needed and tourism is a fluid concept”.

Peter Rømer Hansen also shared the five key messages that came from their discussions with key stakeholders in York: “We need a grand plan for urban development and the role of tourism connecting the dots of a thriving city, let’s maintain a strong connection with the locals who have rediscovered the city centre during COVID, we need leadership to become a sustainable destination, all in on culture! - and not just heritage – is a broadly shared aspiration and finally, we have a lot of things going, perhaps also a bit of complacency.”

The full report from Group NAO, ‘Y Tourism?’, which explores what kind of tourism York wants in the future – and how can the visitor economy make York a better city can be found here.

Finally, Aileen Crawford, Head of Tourism & Conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau, discussed how Glasgow has grown their business tourism in line with the city’s sustainable strategy: “Back in 2016, we realised that the fastest growing key sector for our conference world was in low-carbon and energy related conferences. So we were looking to see how we could match the city story and convention bureau support to attract more low carbon and energy related conferences. In 2019, our last full year of conference business, you can see that we hosted 25 conferences in this key theme and that attracted over 11,500 delegates worth £8.5 million to the local economy from delegate spend.”

Aileen also touched upon the demand for more sustainable tourism: “Just looking for searches in your own city, you can see that TripAdvisor, Conde Nast, Expedia, allow green searches to come on board. And you can see that that is driven by the customer, driven by the guests, wanting to stay in your hotels and wanting to come to our cities for meetings. We noticed that the Glasgow Convention Bureau website, we have implemented a search for green accredited venues and hotels, that search went up by 150% in 2021.”

Clare Frisby then chaired the Talking Heads panel, with Castle Howard’s Abbi Ollive, York BID’s Andrew Lowson, Galtres Lodge’s Rebecca Hill and LNER’s Kate McFerran. All panellists said they were optimistic for York’s future, with Abbi Ollive sharing that Castle Howard has “just come out of the back of a record-breaking Christmas... bigger and better than 2019” and that by “pre-ticketing some of our big events and phasing the entry, the visitor experience goes up”.

Andrew Lowson from York BID started off with some positive stats from York’s footfall data: “if you look at this December just gone and compare it with December 2019, before the pandemic, York was only 5% down in terms of its footfall and that was compared to the UK average of –22% down”. Andrew also addressed the “myth that local people don’t use York city centre”, as data shows that 30% of those who used the city centre in December 2021 were residents (residing inside the outer ring-road) and last summer, in the height of the tourism season between July and September, 26% of spend came from local people.

York has recovered well from the loss of international travellers, with Galtres Lodge’s Rebecca Hill citing that “what we’ve lost has been replaced with other markets – residents, locals, a bit further afield staycationers in the hotels... Aside from a few (businesses) who have said yes international is a really big draw for us, the majority have said yes whilst there has been a decline from that market it has been replaced, sometimes over and above, by other markets.”

Headline sponsors LNER’s Kate McFerran said they brought “around half a million people into York last year” and that leisure has led their recovery to the extent that when they reached November/December 2021, they had reached 92.3% of their pre-Covid figures.

Make It York’s Chair, Greg Dyke, closed the conference by recognising how “devastating” the pandemic was initially for the tourism industry and well done to York’s businesses for surviving it. Greg Dyke also commented on “how increasingly important sustainability is going to be to the tourism industry. If we want the tourists of the future, we will have to demonstrate that York is a green city and the plan to make York and North Yorkshire carbon neutral as soon as possible, I think is important to all our businesses”.

All slides and presentations from VYCON22 can be found here.

Notes to editors:

VYCON22 is a Make It York event, supported by headline sponsors LNER. The event is also sponsored by fidomoney, Golden Tours, Deans Computer Services Ltd and YorkMix Radio.

For further information please contact:

Sarah Foster and Brittany Guymer – Communications team at Make It York

Email: comms@makeityork.com

About Make It York

Make It York’s purpose is to develop and promote the city and its surroundings – nationally and internationally - as a vibrant and attractive place to live, visit, study, work and do business. The company’s remit covers leisure and business tourism, city centre management, festivals and events and culture.

Visit York is a part of Make It York and is the leisure tourism brand

Under the brand Visit York, Make It York’s aim is to market York as a must-see world-class destination to the leisure visitor and ensure investment to develop the quality of tourism in York.

About the Speakers

Richard Nicholls, Head of Research and Forecasting at VisitBritain

Richard Nicholls joined VisitBritain in 2015 as Head of Research and Forecasting. He and his team are responsible for analysis of inbound tourism data, insights and prospects both for VisitBritain and for the benefit of the wider UK tourism industry.

Signe Jungersted and Peter Rømer Hansen, Founding Partners at Group NAO

Signe Jungersted and Peter Rømer Hansen are founding partners in innovation and strategy agency Group NAO. Group NAO works with strategic transformation and innovation within the experience and visitor economy. Recent projects include 101sustainableideas.com with Gothenburg, Power of Community series with European Cities Marketing, ‘Tourism Taxes by Design’ and ‘Time for DMOcracy’ as multi-client projects.

Aileen Crawford, Head of Tourism & Conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau

Aileen is Head of Tourism & Conventions at the award-winning Glasgow Convention Bureau, responsible for the successful positioning of Glasgow as a conference destination for national and international association meetings. In addition, Aileen’s role includes Destination Management, working in partnership with industry, VisitScotland and Glasgow City Council in collaboration to develop and improve the visitor experience.


VYCON22 Panellists

Abbi Ollive, Head of Marketing and Sales at Castle Howard

Andrew Lowson, Executive Director at York BID
Rebecca Hill, Managing Director at Galtres Lodge

Kate McFerran, Communications Director at LNER