WCs and 4G are top of the list for rural tourists

Public transport, toilets and broadband are key problems facing rural tourism businesses, experts have told MPs.

There are also concerns about the long-term impact of Brexit, which threatens businesses and organisations that rely on European funding and migrant workers.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee heard yesterday from VisitBritain/VisitEngland, Welcome to Yorkshire and Northumberland Tourism as part of an inquiry into rural tourism.

Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications, VisitBritain/VisitEngland, told the MPs: “We ran three round-tables before coming here and the big issue was broadband, especially for attracting younger tourists.

“We also want people to share images on social media and we are missing opportunities for them to become advocates.”

Sir Gary Verity, chief executive at Welcome to Yorkshire, added: “One of the biggest things that would make a massive improvement very quickly would be 4G.

“If you have 4G it will avoid the need for digging, and putting in fibre pipes.”

Yates said that public toilet access was the issue which prompted most complaints to destination management organisations.

Jude Leitch, director of Northumberland Tourism, said her county had introduced a ‘You’re Welcome’ scheme encouraging businesses to let visitors use toilets.

She also highlighted the importance of online access and promoting tourism digitally.

“Visitnorthumberland.com is a very cheap asset, and costs £35,000 a year – but we can clearly demonstrate that it brings in £75 million a year in additional spending,” she said.

“Tourist information centres cost us a lot of money to maintain but only 7% of our visitors visit them.”

All three were optimistic about the continuing growth in rural tourism, but said the sector was missing out on many other opportunities to woo visitors across the regions and away from London.

Yates said overseas visitors are wary of driving on the left, so more bookable fares and itineraries are required – something that the £40 million Discover England fund is tackling – while Sir Gary called for more brown signs along roadsides to help highlight attractions.

However, Leitch said that smaller DMOs had to prioritise spending on domestic visitors and relied on VisitEngland for international marketing, but cuts to VisitEngland staff were making that more difficult.

On the issue of Brexit, Sir Gary said EU funding had been “significant” for Yorkshire so he hoped other funds would replace it in future.

He also highlighted how the sector was reliant on staff from Europe and beyond, commenting: “We are watching with interest and trepidation and anxiety.

“If, in the worst-case scenario, all of those people disappear and cannot be replaced, we would have a problem.”

Pictured from left: Jude Leitch, Northumberland Tourism; Patricia Yates, VisitBritain/VisitEngland; and Sir Gary Verity, Welcome to Yorkshire.
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