‘Too many stag dos, too few quality events’ – York tourism report

Tourists in York
york-tourists

Could do better? York’s tourism offer under scrutiny. Photograph: Paul Crossman / visityork.org

Fewer stag and hen parties, more quality attractions and better business conference facilities are needed to attract higher-spending visitors to York.

According to a long-delayed major study into tourist accommodation in the city, a new strategy is needed to boost the visitor economy.

Written in July but only made public recently, the report was commissioned after the city revealed its ambition to double the value of its tourist sector to £1 billion by 2023.

The report authors talked to hotel and B&B owners, pub licensees, property development companies and travel agencies to get their views on York tourism.

And they didn’t hold back about what was wrong with the city, and what needed to change.

Stag and hen dismay

The prevalence of people on stag and hen weekends in York was commented on by everyone, the report’s authors state.

“Tackling the evening economy, tackling some of the issues we have with hens and stags which is almost alienating another set of clientele… families come back to us because it is getting too rough in town”

– Four star hotel owner

“You just need to go into the city on a Saturday afternoon… it has become a hen and stag paradise, but would that go along with the heritage side of York and what York stands for in terms of culture and arts? Not convinced. Do we want to become the new Newcastle?”

– Four star hotel owner

‘Half-hearted’ festivals

“It is believed that York can attract a greater proportion of higher spending visitors by further developing the visitor experience,” the report states.

“There was a desire for York to retain what makes it special and different but to develop an ‘offer’ which will appeal more to the higher value / spending audiences required to attract in order to double the value of tourism.”

Between 5.30 and 8 o’clock there is virtually tumbleweed going down the street; there is very little going on, it just needs to be more vibrant. I think we need to be much more ambitious in terms of commissioning and not being afraid to bring in external artists and performers. Gear up on the festival front, everything is a bit home- grown and hand-knitted at the moment

– Stakeholder

“[Festivals are an opportunity to draw visitors but] complacent and half-hearted”

– Four star hotel owner

“Festivals are good for the City but need to encourage more quality… bigger and better events… give more support to festival and event organisers”

– Event management

“Cities that have embraced that notion of commissioning artists and writers and festivals, they tend to attract those high value visitors”

– Stakeholders

“Christmas markets is an absolute pet hate of mine, I cannot understand how our city is beaten by Manchester, Leeds, Bury, Sheffield’s Christmas markets. It’s all shut up after work, that’s when they start to thrive; there’s definite work that needs doing but the problem is no one wants to lead it”

– Stakeholder

‘We’ve nothing world class’

york-minster-rooftops-marks-and-spencer

The Minster is world class… is anything else? Photograph: Richard McDougall

Interviewees also spoke of their concern about the way the city centre was going, with lots of bars and places to eat moving in, but little else.

“If only we had something world-class here beside our cathedral, then you have got the making of a real way of generating the city and business, but we’ve got nothing world class here”

– Four star hotel owner

“The shops that are closing are being filled with yet another restaurant… but people don’t come to York just to go to restaurants, they come to do their shopping. It is the individual shops which were part of the draw to the city, the pleasure of walking around and seeing different things”

– Guest house owner

“If you look at the retail industry, all the shops are closing and the only applications coming into York are for pubs and bars, that in my opinion is a longer term issue because it will become a mega-big bar and with everything that comes with it”

– Four star hotel owner

‘Danger of becoming Blackpool’

Photos by Allan Harris: Cedar hotel stairway

Five star – the Cedar Court Grand Hotel. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

York has seen the number of tourist beds increase by one third since 1999.

But the growth of budget hotels has driven some B&Bs and guest houses out of business. There are now five budget hotels in York and the number of B&B and guest house beds has dropped by 27 per cent.

“We don’t want to become a Blackpool and there is that danger without a strategy; I’d rather have higher end hotels coming into this city than I would budget hotels”

– Four star hotel owner

“If you look at the Cedar Court, which is five star, they’re selling their rooms at £99, and we’re four star and we have to complete with this; and they must be losing money hand over fist, but not only that, they’re making other hotels lose money”

– Four star hotel owner

“[There is a] danger that there is a race to the bottom on rates”

– Hotel developer

Room rates lower

York has a higher occupancy rate but a lower room rate than other “heritage cities”. While the average room rate for a York hotel in 2012 was £67.61, in Stratford-upon-Avon it was £74.14 and in Oxford £93.96.

The report says hoteliers are concerned “about the impact of expanding the supply of bed stock if there is not a corresponding increase in demand, especially during quieter times”.

“I don’t believe we can sustain more than 300 extra bedrooms in the city, I really don’t”

– Four star hotel owner

“Come the high days and holidays, yes everywhere is full. Once you are in the off months there is stacks of accommodation all over the place”

– Four star hotel owner

A lack of staff was another concern.

“A ticking time-bomb for recruitment which I think will hit in the next 2 years… if hotels tell you they don’t struggle to recruit and retain chefs then they are not telling you the truth”

– Four star hotel owner

Lack of business tourism

Developers see York as an attractive location but a market over-supplied with budget accommodation. It also lacks a good enough offer to visitors coming here on business and for conferences.

“Conference facilities [in York] not up to scratch at all. Very limited”

– York-based company

“There is nothing decent [in York]. If you wanted some space you would have to go to Harrogate or Leeds”

– York-based company

“Too much budget accommodation and not enough quality/four star which could also hinder conference organisers choosing York”

– International hotel operator

“There needs to be a higher proportion of business visitors to balance out the leisure visitor volumes. More focus on conference and meetings and attract more corporate businesses to the city”

– Hotel operator

“I wish it did [have a large exhibition / conference space] that would be one of the best things they could do… that would put us in the big league”

– Four star hotel owner

What needs to be done

york-conference

A conference in York – more are needed, the report says. Photograph: Paul Crossman / visityork.org

To double the money spent by tourists, York should not be trying to attract more than the seven million visitors who come here each year.

Where they stay

York has 465 tourism accommodation properties with about 6,363 bedrooms and 14,473 bed spaces in the city

Of the 56 hotels, one is a five star hotel; 11 four star; 16 three star; seven two star, five budget and the remainder not graded

There are 178 B&Bs, 31 campsites; 21 inns; 21 self-catering and serviced apartments and 14 campus and hostels

This “could create more issues than it solves”, say the report authors.

Instead the city must move into untapped markets.

The potentially most lucrative of these is the business and conference sector. And York must encourage more overseas visitors to stay longer than the typical overnight visit.

The report authors concluded that:

  • sites like York Racecourse, the Barbican Centre and the university should be promoted to position York more clearly in the conference market in the short and medium term
  • a new business conference / convention centre has the potential to create a “step-change in the numbers of business visitors” in the longer term
  • international association visitors are an untapped market that would be attracted by such developments.

Does York need new hotels?

“Without a significant increase in demand for accommodation by attracting currently under-represented but higher value audiences, any expansion of bed-space should proceed with steady caution in order to prevent an over supply and demand stimulated by price cuts in room rates.”

Ultimately, the report says, York should aim to bring in more business and overseas visitors, which would lead to a greater demand for high-quality hotels and achieve York’s aim to become a billion-pound destination.

Long delayed

In answer to a Freedom Of Information request by York hotelier Michael Hammill, City of York Council revealed the tourism report was commissioned in January 2014 and was due to report in February.

When it had not been published in March, Mr Hammill wrote to ask for an update and was told it had been delayed and would be available in April.

He asked about the report again in May to be told that “due to a number of factors” the report had been delayed and that the second draft was anticipated in June.

On August 1 he was told “the consultation is still running and the report will be published, once it is completed”.

Ten days later he was told “we are hoping to publish mid-September“.

The report was actually made public in October.

It is dated July 2014.

  York Tourism Accommodation Study For City of York Council was written by Nick How of Qa Research, a research agency based in St George’s Place, York; and John Gallery of Great Potential, a management consultancy for hotels and venues in Elvington

  Download the full report (PDF)

  York aims for £1 billion tourism industry: here’s how it can be done

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