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Ep.33 Visit West’s Kathryn Davis talking about exciting future plans for the region

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6 Dec, 2023

About Episode 33

Visit West managing Director Kathryn Davis, talking about the 10-year Destination Management Plan for the region alongside future funding for regional tourism

In this episode we have a returning guest, the lovely Kathryn Davis, Managing Director of Visit West, shedding light on the key aspects of the recently launched Destination Management Plan (DMP) and the future of tourism funding at a local level.

The Visit West regional area, including Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset, sees a staggering £2 billion into the local economy each year from tourism.”

We chat about:

>How business has been in 2023 up until September for the region.

> Headlines of the Destination Management Plan, unveiling key growth markets, distinctive themes, and the necessary elements for infrastructure, product development, and skills.

> How towns, villages, and businesses in the wider areas can leverage visitors by aligning with Visit West’s plans outlined in the DMP, launched in November 2023.

> The significance of Visit West being one of the first Local Visitor Economy Partnerships (LVEP) and how can lead to future opportunities for lobbying and collaboration.

> Insights into the future funding landscape for tourism, discussing opportunities and challenges that businesses may encounter.

> A look into what’s on the horizon for the region, including upcoming projects and initiatives that will significantly shape the visitor landscape.

Full Transcription
SPEAKERS
Kelly Ballard, Kathryn Davis

Kelly Ballard
Thank you for joining me today Kathryn Davis, you’re here back on the podcast. Thank you so much.

Kathryn Davis 01:55
Well it’s lovely to see you again.

Kelly Ballard 01:58
Yeah, well, where are you today?

Kathryn Davis 02:02
I’m currently sat in the basement, of our serviced accommodation, where we have our central office and it’s very chilled out. And it has good coffee, so I’m also brilliant.

Kelly Ballard 02:14
Where’s this? Where’s your new office? Because well, I say new, but how long have you been there?

Kathryn Davis 02:18
So we moved into this service office in April. And it was a bit of a shift after 17 or so years in five storey Georgian townhouse to go into a one room, nine desk service office.

Kelly Ballard 02:40
Is this around St. Nicholas markets?

Kathryn Davis 02:44
yes, it called St. Nicholas house. It works for us because we’ve got people coming in, part of the challenge with the regional role is some days you’re in Bath for a couple of days, you could be in Weston, it could be in Bristol Zoo Project on a Tuesday morning. So because the team are fairly fluid in how they’re working, this is a base. Because some people are more office based than others. But generally you’ll have people coming and going to various meetings and appointments during the working week.

Kelly Ballard 03:24
Hmm, well, that’s good. Anyway, so good location, it’s nice that you’re all on one floor – in one room (Kathryn).
I remember back in the day, and it was kind of, as you say, five storeys and everyone running up and down the stairs to try and speak to people.

But yes, today, I wanted to talk to you. You’ve recently launched your destination management plan, which I’d like to kind of dig into that a bit, which is really exciting. And you’ve officially become, since we last spoke, a Local Visitor Economy Partner, is it how is that right?

Kathryn Davis 03:58
An LVEP – Local Visitor Economy Partnership.

Kelly Ballard 04:00
That’s it. So we’ll talk about that. I’m really keen to have a conversation with you about what it actually means on the ground. Because I’ve been involved in these things before and it’s a different world to how the hospitality businesses and attractions operate on the ground. So I’m keen to dig into that.

But firstly, I just wondered whether you could share with everyone the what’s been happening this year, from your perspective, some of the stats that you’ve seen, you know, how has 2023 been for business across the region?

Kathryn Davis 04:36
It’s interesting, there was a relatively slow start to the year. We were a bit slow to get going in January/ February, which obviously automatically fills you with terror. We collect monthly data that’s footfall from our visitors into attractions. It’s occupancy at hotels, we benchmark that against some national data as well, just to make sure that we’re not wildly out. We also work with business improvement districts in the region, looking at things like footfall counters, at credit card spend. The monthly Business Barometre is really important as with national datasets, there’s such a significant lag in terms of when you get it, and we can’t wait that long. So through our key partnerships, particularly the BIDs, but Local Authorities and others, we get pretty good feel.

So yeah, very slow to start then it got better and we’ve just finished, all the September data. Now this is like the second of November. So we’re just collecting October and its been good. Hotels have been doing relatively well – occupancy has been good. What we’ve seen from visitor attractions is generally pretty good. There’s some people who are absolutely flying, there are others, not having such a great time with it. And it all depends on where your kind of benchmark is, if you’re looking back and comparing with 2019, most people aren’t. But then you had, particularly for outdoor and rural attractions 2020/21, was smashing everything that they did in 2019. So it’s very difficult to pick where your benchmark is. I think the cities are slower to recover. And we hear that from other city places. That, you know, what we have seen is that it’s very individual that it’s not if one person’s doing well, everyone’s doing well. And certainly this year, we’ve seen some record numbers to some as well. So yeah, all over the place.

Kelly Ballard 07:04
You make a very good point about the benchmarking, absolutely. It’s just like, where do you place yourself in what’s happened over the past couple of years, like you say, and people are at different points in their journey in terms of business growth, aren’t they? Renovations, different big things that happen in Sure. So who’s travelling and who isn’t?

Kathryn Davis 07:25
Domestically, we’re still, you know, domestic market is still cool. International recovery – so this is an interesting one – international recovery, we use the International Passenger Survey as our kind of benchmark, we know it’s not perfect, but it’s a good indicator. And we use that and we look at things like credit card spend, which you get a few months back. So in terms of international, the US market has been pretty much propping up everything else. And then you see, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, a lot of these kinds of markets, we would have had anyway. Australia has been particularly strong in the region as well.

So it’s a mixture of visiting friends and relatives, holidays, business returning as well. With both there’s much more of a bias towards holidays. But that’s the same as was. Again, domestically, we’re very south of England and M4 corridor and that largely hasn’t changed. But you’ve got people coming from all over the place, we’ve got a good strong Scottish contingent coming, you can the visitors from the southwest coming up, particularly after the summer. So interestingly, we haven’t seen any major shifts domestically in terms of where people coming from compared to the pandemic. But the US visitors have been off the charts. And obviously we haven’t got the Chinese visitors we’ve had our visiting friends and relatives, particularly students, or youth, a domestic Chinese audience. They’re not. They’re not coming from China necessarily.

Kelly Ballard 09:21
It was interesting having I came to Bath the other day, and it’s been the first time I’ve been in Bath for a long time. And I really felt that Chinese audience. It’s interesting isn’t it when you go into a place that you haven’t been for a while, and you’re kind of used to seeing a certain type of person and a certain type of visitor. And it was, you know, there was massive groups of Chinese visitors and I thought, Oh, this is interesting.

Thanks, Kathryn, that’s useful. So let’s talk about the Destination Management Plan. I came to the presentation to those that who were involved in the consultation and heard the headlines from Blue Sail who helped you, but for those who don’t know, what, what exactly is a Destination Management Plan?

Kathryn Davis 10:12
So our interpretation is, that a destination management plan is a framework for development. When it says destination management, it’s not about going and putting cones out and where the buses stop and things. It’s basically for us to plan at a top level strategy in terms of where is our best opportunity for growth. Who those people are, what products do they want in need, and how do we satisfy them. Have we got them? And if not, how do we create them? Because this is about how we develop over the next 10 years with our audience. This isn’t about doing anything that we’re doing this is about being laser focused in terms of where we need to go to for growth. And growth isn’t about just driving volume. And I think that’s a bit we were key to stress. It’s about growth where you’ve got capacity.

So a lot of effort went into looking at people who travel year-round, what sort of experience do they want? How do we get them to stay longer? What are the assets that we have locally? And how does that work? And one of the things that’s really important is that sustainability is at the core of everything.

That was precondition that this couldn’t be something where sustainability sat as an add-on. Importantly for us as well, is the plan doesn’t just talk about markets and growth, it actually talks about getting some of the infrastructure, some of the basics and foundations right. And particularly because things have changed so much since COVID, it’s making sure we keep on top of that. At a time when many businesses are just looking at survival, that can be quite difficult.

Kelly Ballard 12:06
Hmm, absolutely. So that obviously feeds into wider local authority plans and placemaking plans and therefore you work with the West of England Combined Authority, and they’re doing a load of stuff around transport and the like. And it all fits together. I’m guessing they were part of this consultation, too.

Kathryn Davis 12:32
Yeah, absolutely, both the culture side and the economic development side, all the local authorities were involved. So we had the nighttime adviser involved in Bristol, we had transport people from Bath, we had rail operators, the airport, we tried to bring as many component parts. So there was about 120 people involved in some way, shape, or form. And we were very keen that it wasn’t just the same people who always come to every consultation that happens everywhere else, because you’ve got local plans in development and we’ve got feedback from that.
This wasn’t what happens in the next few years and what we need to create, because we’ve got such a phenomenal pipeline of stuff coming to the region, you know, arenas and new hotels and new attractions and new experiences, that it wasn’t about where do we fill in the gaps, it was more about how do we incorporate what’s going to be happening and put that within the plan.

Kelly Ballard 13:42
Can you give me the headlines of what’s in the plan, Kathryn and what that means for those on the ground? In fact, there’s two big questions there. Just tell me the headlines.

Kathryn Davis 13:54
So the headlines are, we’ve been working with Blue Sail, we’ve looked at the targets, and been laser focus. And just to stress this isn’t about stopping what anyone’s doing. So in terms of where we go and what our target group will be, it’s a ‘made-up’ term that Blue Sail have created that fits us. So nobody can be flicking through a marketing book or Googling online and go well, it doesn’t exist, and we don’t really know. And they’re called Eclectic Vibers.

They are not destination specific, which was really important. They’re a type of person who will travel and under 40, which is really depressing because you suddenly realise you’re too old to be part of that group. But these are kind of, essentially they’re millennials who want more out of their travel. So they want to look at a destination with a different lens and find things that are off the beaten track, they want to stay longer. They’re quite happy to explore using public transport, they want to be out, they want to be outdoors. But they also want the convenience of the city and the environment, they want to try new things. But it’s about having an experience that is unique to that destination.

And we think that within the region, we can tick a lot of those boxes, you’ve got an urban centre, like Bristol, you’ve got a heritage city of Bath, looking beautiful, and having some very different experiences, which is good when you’ve got coastline and Weston and Clevedon and then you’ve got the Mendips and the Cotswolds around it. So you’ve got a blend of rural outdoors that’s really close to the city and a place that is generally easy to get around.

Kelly Ballard 15:56
Hmm. Okay, well, you’ve talked about a kind of a market there, I guess. But just taking a step back as I was in this presentation, in terms of the stats, I mean, to 2.33 billion pounds is spent across the area, with 37.9 visitors per year, 37 point 9 million visitors per year. What I thought was interesting was that only 12% of those people are staying visitors, but they’re spending 43% of that £2.33 billion. I mean, we all know that staying visitors, spend the most and that’s feeding into as you were saying that sustainability piece, we want people to come travel once, you know, do the long travel once and then stay as long as possible, and ideally get around by public transport. So, you’ve focused on encouraging those people to come in what else is within that outside of a market that you’re looking at, if you’ve got some different themes and pillars of the area, as well

Kathryn Davis 17:09
As our Eclectic Vipers who are very much about leisure or they be in a glorious term of B-leisure as well, where you’ve got the digital nomad who can come and work for a few hours and then go off and have a nice time.
The two other segments that will be making sure that the focus on are our business event delegates and business visitors. So how do we capitalise on those and encourage more of them, because we’re going to have bigger venues and more accommodation that we need to deliver on.

The other one is visiting friends and relatives or VFR. And in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, there’s a lot of VFR travelling, because you’ve got popular transient population and people living here from all over the world and people moving in and the same goes for Bath. And how can we make it easy for them to know what’s happening so that they can be inspired to bring their friends and relatives.
So that those were other areas that were touched on in the plan.

The three pillars that we’re focusing on are New culture, and I’ll come back to that, Heritage Reinterpreted and well-being. New Culture it’s moving beyond what the interpretation of culture normally is in terms of a tourism economy. So we’re looking at culture being about place. So it’s not just about the museums, it’s the festivals, the events, the food, the sport, the day-to-day being a place.

And that is a much about visual arts be they in a museum, they could be in a gallery, they could be in a gallery that’s there for selling purposes, more than visiting purposes, it can be on the street. So that was really important that that New Culture encompasses place culture as opposed to being a very narrow definition. Because, again, theatre, entertainment, club nights, music, that’s how you get people to stay, you know, stay over. So something to do in the evening, they’re more likely to stay. Yeah, it’s not just about the daytime experience.

Heritage Reinterpreted was making sure that we’re telling everyone’s stories. This isn’t the traditional white male heritage story, this is about making sure that we hear stories of working people and challenging stories and stories from different communities living there, women stories. It’s not always front and centre. So thinking about how this has been evolving in our working past, so it’s talking about Emporer Haile Selassie and visits to Fairfield house. It’s thinking about Beckfords Tower that’s under renovation at the moment, William Beckford has got an incredibly challenging background, and how that story is being told.

Kelly Ballard 20:11
I don’t know that story, Kathryn, what is that?

Kathryn Davis 20:13
So William Beckford was, was a character who had made, or family and him had made their fortune in trading and enslaved people and plantations. And he also, he also personally suffered at the hands of the establishment, although he was part of the establishment for being homosexual. So you’ve got two stories, one where you’re, you know, where you’re ostracised from the establishment because of your sexuality, and another side is your lifestyle was enabled by all this money that came from the enslavemed people. So it’s really challenging stories. And that’s one of them.

Kelly Ballard 21:02
That’s in Bath right?

Kathryn Davis 21:05
Yes, then in Bristol, how we tell the story of the bus boycott, which was fundamental in changing civil rights legislation. And this year has been the 60th anniversary and what’s been brilliant is to see, or celebration or the acknowledgement of the people who changed the face of the country.
And it’s making sure that we are telling stories like that, and how people can find out more that social history around the destinations, rather than, you know, you go here and you tick this box, and you go there and you tick this box. Again, this comes back to our Eclectic Vibers and wanting that kind of social responsibility and wanting to hear different stories.

Then Well-being – looking at wellbeing as being something that’s intrinsic to where we are, ithis isn’t just a jumping on a trend. So obviously, you’ve got the spa waters of Bath. Or also, it’s about the green and blue spaces that surround us. It’s about the food that we eat, it’s about how you look after yourself. So yeah, so all of that sits within the wellness and Bath as a world heritage city, you know, has a couple of designated world heritage status that the spa culture, being part of the great spas of Europe, that that’s critical in terms of place.

Kelly Ballard 22:32
Absolutely.
It’s a big document, you’re trying to summarise it here. When are you sharing this with people? And how can people get the detail

Kathryn Davis 22:38
We’ll be creating a section online on our website. Where they’ll be seeing in the document in full, and then action points and what we’ve achieved and where we’re going.
It’s going to be complicated and grand plans of how we’re going to do this. I would like to think that we’ll keep on top of it. But it’s going to be you know, we’ve got to we’ve got to make sure we update it.
But the first thing we’ll be doing is developing a little Consultation Group. And they that little Working Party, will be the ones, who made up of external people. It’ll only be a small group who are there to keep it on track. And also to keep the plan in practice. This isn’t a plan that’s just going to sit in a folder and never be referred to again.
We want this to be in people’s minds when they are developing their own plans. Looking at how people purchase travel now, how people make decisions about travel, what needs to happen, because you can have the best experience in the world but if you cant book it what do you do? So it’s about creating itineraries.
We’re on day one of a 10 year plan, so we’re not going to do everything in the next six weeks. But we’ll be sharing where we’ve had success. We’ll be using it as a lobbying tool as well inevitably. But what’s been important is that because it’s a regional plan, it’s not detailed at destination level. And it gives people scope and places a scope that if they want to tease out and do their own, they’ve got a framework in which to work.

Kelly Ballard 24:31
I think it’s a really tough job. It’s really hard, I think to really stand out and also kind of keep everyone happy. You need to, we’re trying to drive footfall for everyone ultimately, but you can’t be everything to everyone, because you will just water down everything that you do and you just simply don’t have the budget to do that kind of niche marketing to support all of those individual elements because you could for example, within this, you could say the family market is significant, but you’ve chosen not to do that.

Kathryn Davis 25:03
The thing that’s important is we’re not stopping marketing to families. We know that families will tend to travel in school holiday periods. So we will still be doing campaigns around the summer that talk about all the things you can do for families. This isn’t about stopping things. This is about where you do your laser focus and your product development. Because July and August are the busiest times so if you’ve got hotels that are near a 90% occupancy, and you’ve got family attractions, doing well, you can’t keep adding capacity where places are already busy. Yep, so what we’ve looked at where we’ve got gaps. And that’s why you see things like visiting friends and relatives, business events, and this the Eclectic Vibers, because we’ve got more opportunity to drive capacity where we need capacity. And so that’s why we’ve been very clear about things like family, you know, family markets, we’ll still be doing our summer based campaigns and all the things you can do. It just means that we’re not going to be doing, it’s not how we’re going to be developing itineraries and products in the future proactively to fill the gaps. So all about, it’s all about where we’ve got capacity and where it needs to go.

Kelly Ballard 26:25
Hmm, yes, when thinking about destinations, like Weston or you know, small towns like Chipping Sodbury, these, like, outlying areas. How can they benefit? I mean, with places like Weston, I guess we’ve talked about well-being, I mean, it cross cuts in a few of those aspects, you’ve got the culture, you’ve got the new culture, there’s a lot of great things happening there. And I think, actually, Weston is probably not a good example, because it does feed really well into well-being. And some of the exciting plans that are happening there. But with those smaller, outlying areas, how do they ensure that they benefit from this.

Kathryn Davis 27:05
So if we take some of the high streets of the market towns, for example, we talk about experiences. Now, if you’ve gone into the area, you’ll want to go into a pub like thats, a few 100 years old, that’s an old coaching inn, for a pint is not just something you do, if you’re travelling from further afield, that’s pretty exotic, that’s an experience. And so it’s about how you create and talk about the experience. So there’s something for us in terms of teasing out all these opportunities. And it’s making it accessible so that people understand what there is to do and again, it comes back to infrastructure. If you got coach visits, for example, if you’ve got coaches visiting, you’re not going to send them to somewhere that hasn’t got a drop off and hasn’t got a car park. So you’re, you’re always looking at what’s the inspiration, but what’s the practical element around it. I am a massive fan of the small local heritage museums and spend an inordinate amount of time talking about, like brilliant places like the Museum of Bath and Kingwood District Heritage Museum where you’ve got some incredible collections and stories. But you know, you have to let people know when they’re open and what’s happening, and so teasing the story out, and if you can’t make an online booking, it has to revert to something slightly more, you know by chance. So this is about creating packages and experiences that help drive footfall to smaller places. And when we say destinations, it’s not just about high streets and places, but there are individual places that are quite difficult to get to, for example. It’s about what is the experience, how you communicate it, how you make it accessible, and how you talk about it to that audience.

Kelly Ballard 29:17
Mm hmm, it’s making it easy, isn’t it? I think totally in everything that I do, from a marketing perspective, that whole customer journey, if there’s kind of rub where it’s negative, or it just doesn’t happen. It’s a split second now that people will just choose not to go. So your role very much is to create awareness around the area, to constantly be shouting to those people in the rest of the country, internationally about this area and trying to get that cut through. And it’s for the businesses to work with you in order to provide that seamless service. And I know that you’re investing in your website, for example. And that’s just one way in which, you know, we can reach people. And there’s obviously social media, now you’ve got an enormous following, and is doing an amazing job of kind of spotlighting so many things in the area. But yeah, I guess that’s what organisations and just smaller destinations can do is just make sure that they’ve linked in seamlessly,

Kathryn Davis 30:23
you know, we sit in the middle of a lot of these conversations. So, we’ve got two consumer channels, we’ve got three b2b channels. There’s also our work with third parties. So whether that’s media visits, whether that’s working with a travel trade, whether we create toolkits to give to online travel providers. So we kind of sit in the middle and imagine this, you know, there’s a bottom layer of all these stories and experiences and places. And we find a funnel and disperse them in a way that makes sense to the audience. So that so that’s kind of our sweet spot, really.

And the reason that those third parties are really important, whether they’re media or trade or other partnerships, like Visit England or other areas around the country, those relations are really important, because we can’t just keep talking to the people who follow us. And we can’t keep just talking to the people who find this because you end up in this echo chamber, and you don’t develop. So we have for media visits, for example, there are certain titles that align themselves really, or certain influencers that align themselves quite nicely to the destinations. And not just to destinations, but to these themes. So the aim will be long term, to creating itineraries and create experiences. I mean, we’re not going to write this as the new culture itinerary. But it’s how you create those. And you put it in a way that inspire people to go off and write about it, because we need to be much broader in our thinking.

Kelly Ballard 32:24
Okay. Thank you. It’s useful, I think, you know, the, information that you send out, when the actual destination management plan is shared with everybody, and people take the time to have a look at what that means. And then to ask you questions about how that relates to them and what they can do. And like you say, it’s business as usual, but you have to focus somewhere in order to push forward for the future and grow. So thank you.

Kathryn Davis 32:52
That side of it is only half of it. The other half is about getting the foundations right. I think that there’s a tendency to get hung up on, what’s the campaign where you’re marketing what you’re doing? But some of these other things need to be right. And we talked about families earlier. There’s a lot of accommodation, hotel accommodation. That probably isn’t great for families, there’s a lot of accommodation, that’s brilliant for families. But it’s about making sure that the right people are in the right organisations in the right areas. And having travelled with kids from tiny babies up to 20 somethings now. Again, one of the things that we’re really passionate about is when you’re talking about families, not all families look the same. So yeah, we have to be very careful in how we talk about it because we’re trying to be helpful. Our job is to give people insights that they’re not going to get anywhere else and that’s what makes our channels very valuable.

Kelly Ballard 33:59
Okay, thank you. There’s so many questions. We could talk about this for a long time. So it’s difficult, isn’t it without trying to kind of go down a rabbit hole in some of these things. So let’s, let’s get back to the LVEP and Visit West being an LVEP, tell me why is that important?
You’re one of what will be 40 and according to the presentation from Visit England, the other day, Drew who was talking about it, you’re the one of the first 12 to be given that status, which is brilliant. Yeah. What is it, Kathryn, and why is that important?

Kathryn Davis 34:37
So it’s important to us, so the accreditation was announce, oh, my goodness, probably the tail end of 22. So there was lots of consultation that came off the back of the DMO review the deBois report, which was unusual in that I think almost every person I spoke to thought was a great piece of work, and very rarely happens. You know, what I’m like, horribly over competitive, need to be the first ones need to get in at the start and so for us what it felt like was, as soon as we saw the criteria, first of all, for what an LVEP is, because, a Local Visitor Economy Partnership is an organisation that’s accredited through Visit England that is like a stamp of approval. And I think we felt very strongly that when we looked at the criteria, we were fulfilling all of them, and so why wouldn’t you? Yeah. I said, I’m horribly over competitive and wanted to be the first ones to do it.

Kelly Ballard 35:47
There’s a kind of tiered system isn’t there? There’s another tier above LVEP’s and so I think the big question that everyone’s going to ask is, is this going to bring money?
I know that the NorthEast, they’re trialling one of these higher level wider areas at the moment, and they’ve got something like £2.5 million. Tell me, can you explain a little bit about that, Kathryn? And will we get money for the area to help you and others to, you know, to raise the profile?

Kathryn Davis 36:33
Well, first of all, that tier that you’re talking about is the Destination Development Partnership. So that’s DDP, and the DDP is a collection of LVEPs. So I’m trying to do this without tying myself in knots! So a DDP is a collection of LVEPs with one who is the lead for that organization, the lead for that partnership. Yeah, so the pilot as you rightly say, is taking place in the Northeast of England between Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, VisitNorthumberland and Visit County Durham. So they went through an LVEP accreditation so they were the three first accredited LVEPs because they had to be to fulfil the objective to do the DDP. Yep, so they are piloting things. What’s important is it’s not about marketing money. It’s about getting the training, right, getting the sustainability, right, looking at accessibility, making sure you’ve got important development, right, making sure that the businesses are skilled and looking at policies and development and getting the getting the structure in place to enable you to then deliver.
We regularly speak to colleagues at Newcastle Gateshead about how things going and what they’re doing and they’re really generous in sharing information. And it’s been great to see the pilot going. And, obviously, we just we need them to succeed, because if it’s demonstrated that this makes a difference, then the opportunity is to create more DDPS. What those look like in this area is still you know, that’s a question that we’re still talking about, and how what does that look like? Because everybody’s got opinions about what they should be. And I don’t think this is the right forum in which to sort of share things but it’s like saying this about getting the structures right to receive centralised funding to enable that to happen.

What has happened is that of the credited LVEPs there have been sessions with Visit England there are little groups that have come together, to know each other a lot more. We had great relationships because we sit on two groups we sit on a Core Cities group and we’ve got a Heritage cities group, the LVEP enables connections beyond that, and so you can talk about issues and challenges.

We’re very different there’s not many that run multiple destination consumer brands. But it’s always good to kind of road test and chat about how things are going and looking at where we all need support. I mean, we all need money and resource. But you know, I said we’ve got strong digital channels. It’s about sharing what works with us with our digital channels. It’s about learning from other people about how they successfully used a campaign to get visitors to use public transport because we’re all in competition with each other for visitors, but actually, this is about driving up quality across the whole of the piste. And we need to do that by working together,

Kelly Ballard 40:09
I’m going to ask you a question now that is you’ve not really prepared for and we can take like, but you know, I listen to podcasts and look at articles about what’s happening in the US in particular. And what I always think about our industry in the UK is that we are not progressing as fast digitally, as lots of other industries in the UK. And it’s really frustrating that we could be doing so much better, but we can’t, because we’re hamstrung by our finances, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the staff resources to dedicate the time to it. And we don’t have the money to invest in the software that we need to compete in, in the same way on that digital landscape. Now, I know that you’re doing great things, and I know that you invest in various different things. But in comparison to the US, for example, it’s just so much harder. For many, many years, and this is slightly controversial but there’s the tourism tax, and other countries charge a pound a night on top of their accommodation. Do you think it will come to that because central government, you know, local authority funding is dropping, masses of savings are required, the whole concept around the LVEPs is around central government support, but we can’t keep looking to government to support all of these things all the time when we’ve got all of these bills for social care and health and, you know, all of these really important things. Are people kind of moving towards that? Is it getting that far because times are so financially tough from government.

Kathryn Davis 41:57
One of the reasons that there needs to be an element of public funding, or there should be an element of public funding, whether it’s there or not, is that when someone comes in as a visitor, they can contribute to the local economy, number one. The challenge that we’ve got in this country is that visitors are already paying VAT and it’s the second highest in Europe, for the hospitality and tourism. So in other parts of the world, the taxation system is different. So you will have a lower rate of VAT or equivalent on hospitality or dining out, and then you will get a visitor tax that kind of makes up the difference. I mean, that’s a really over simplistic ways.
Also, in some places, tourism taxes are used to detract visitors. So places like Amsterdam, Balearic Islands, that was put in to manage the number and to detract from cheapy weekends away. Okay, so, it’s been used as a management tool.

They have also been used as a way of raising revenue for local authorities who’ve got big holes in their budget. When it comes to tourism tax, I think it depends on where it’s being invested. And that’s the crux of it. If it’s invested in things that benefit the citizens and residents, then it’s probably a good, you know, it’s probably an opportunity. If it’s going to plug massive holes in adult social care child in mandatory services, then it feels like that’s it there’s something wrong with the system.

So I have to say, I think longer term, it’s probably inevitable, but I think there needs to be a wider understanding of why you got these taxes in other places. It’s not a one size fits all, we’re not all the same. And if you look at an international visitor, for example, if you’ve got someone that’s coming in, and they’ve paid either a visa cost or when They’ve got their electronic travel arrangements, ETA’s that are coming. So if you’ve done one or the other, and you paid your APD, then you’ve got your VAT at 20% on everything, then you can’t have your tax free shopping. You can see how visitors, like residents, are already paying a lot of taxes. So it’s, it’s not an easy subject. I think, inevitably, it will be where the money goes.

Kelly Ballard 45:38
Okay. Yes. And until that decision is made somewhere, then you still keep, you know, hopefully the answer will be these DDPs in combination with..

Kathryn Davis 45:54
a race to the finish line, yes, exactly
Oh, yeah,it’s hard. It’s really hard because local authorities have commitments that they have to make. And it makes things very difficult. And uneven public funding makes it really difficult. Now, as you said earlier, on in 2019, the visitor economy was worth 2.3 billion to the region. In 2022, it’s looking like that’s going to come in around, we would have just tipped over the 2 billion mark. So psychologically, you know, for us internally, that’s a really important step. And you look at the jobs, it supports, the opportunities and career opportunities it provides. And the fact that these visitors that you talked about whether they’re coming for the day, or they’re all overnight, and whether they’re coming from an hour down the road, or from the US, they are spending and investing money in high streets, they’re not coming here to shop online. They’re coming here spending in the restaurant in high street shops, they’re coming here in a local restaurant that sustains an experience which is beyond what you would have if it was just a local population. We saw that in COVID. As well, part of what we want to make sure is that, that our economic impact of those visitors is realised and appreciated and planned for. Mm hmm. That’s my little soapbox moment.

Kelly Ballard 47:27
Well, thank you for answering it, Kathryn because I threw that in there and I know it’s a bit of a hot potato, isn’t it? Because it’s, yeah, this, everyone’s got different views on it. And some people are horrified at the prospect of it completely, understandably. But, you know, I exist in a marketing world as opposed to a tourism management world. And these things are, you know, you have to kind of dive into the economics around this. And I’ve never, I didn’t want to go there. To be honest with you, that’s you, that’s for people like you!

Kathryn Davis 48:02
It’s complicated, and, you know, there’s not a short answer to it. And it’s not like, yes, they’re good – tick box. Because as I said, theyre used to stop people coming or as an incentive to reduce.

Kelly Ballard 48:17
I didn’t even know there was there was that in Amsterdam, I went on a Hen Do, I was one of those groups and we spent loads of money. A lot of places you go to, you kind of don’t realise. It’s either an expensive destination, or it’s not, you know, when you go on holiday, I’m not looking at the breakdown of how that kind of comes out. It’s like going to Scandinavia, it’s an expensive destination, I have no idea how that’s made up of whether it’s taxes or tourism tax. I think most of these things we define by how expensive it is by the price of a pint!

Kathryn Davis 48:53
I know its depressing isn’t it. You know the Tourism Alliance have a great document, comparing, but not using the pint analogy, using the cost of a room overnight, and how it breaks down. And it’s yeah, it’s a really, really good read. And I highly recommend,

Kelly Ballard 49:16
if you want to find out more, thank you very much. So what’s coming up in 2024, that as a region we really needs to jump on the back of?

Kathryn Davis 49:25
Where do I start? There’s some really, really good stuff happening in 2024, in a few weeks time we’ll have Bristol Beacon open. Yes, for the first time in many, many, many years in the centre of Bristol, you’ll have a big sized concert hall that will not only come back, with its main auditoria as well as different spaces and food offerings. So you’re gonna have something fairly transformational there. We’ll have you having a new foodie area, a foodie hub in Boxhall that is located in Redcliffe. So that’s been developed over a period of time. There’s new festivals coming. So there’s a Diaspora! festival that’s coming, which is celebrating different backgrounds and cultures. In Bath BRLSI are celebrating their 200th anniversary.
There’ll be there’s a lot of new people in the city developing new products. We will see new hotels -Bristol have a five star hotel opening. You’ve got all the investment that’s going into Weston-super-Mare and a while schedule of events and festival for 2024. So it’s a really exciting time ahead.

Looking ahead even further to 2025 we have the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Bristol and the Gromit trail, we’ve got the 200th anniversary of the birth of Jane Austen, and I’m sure we’ll be kicking our heels up in Bath about that. Further beyond that, you’ve got the Assembly Rooms coming and the Fashion Museum and you’re gonna have the YTL arena coming so I mean, that pipeline of new stuff, not just for 2024 but beyond that is really, really exciting.

And for us, you know, you’re always focusing on what’s happening this week this month, but at the same time you’re looking 5 to 10 years ahead. Now that you know the investment into Bristol Zoo Project is really exciting. Even things like having new railway stations open, new cycle routes available walking, and that’s what I think makes this industry so exciting is that you’re never done. There’s always something new coming there’s always new experiences to develop even talking to some of our attractions or investing in new ticketing systems that will give him the chance to do more in the market. And you know, we know this not everybody gets very excited about new ticketing systems but theyre quire inspirational in the way that they work.

Kelly Ballard 52:13
That’s fab, Kathryn thank you so much for sharing that, exciting times coming up. I mean, it’s going to be hard you know, times are tight economically for everybody. But

Kathryn Davis 52:24
And with all that’s still going on in the world. Yeah,

Kelly Ballard 52:27
I just I just it’s very tough, isn’t it? It’s very hard. It’s hard to think about it all. But yeah, but looking on the bright side, there are great things happening. Congratulations on getting this far and with creating the DMP and the LVEP and all the rest of the stuff because it’s all part of the future and just strengthening a central organisation that can shout about this region to the rest of the world.

Kathryn Davis 52:53
Thank you.

Kelly Ballard 52:57
I’ll see you again soon. CSC. Hope you enjoyed that episode with Catherine. Someone said to me the other day Catherine is like tourism royalty be feel blessed to be in her presence or acknowledged by her. That is so funny. Brilliant. Do you hear that Catherine? If you’ve listened back, which is highly unlikely, because I know you’re so busy. We are but your humble servants. To find the link to visit West destination management plan. Check out the show notes or head to my website visitor elves co.uk where you can get a transcript and some of the things mentioned in the podcast. Thanks so much for listening to the podcast in 2023. I’m taking a short break from the podcast now so that I can focus on 2024. And alongside with chatting to some more fabulous guests. I’ll also be bringing you some advice surgery sessions, where we’ll work through different elements of marketing and the all important customer journey that should help you take your marketing to new heights. So make sure you subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode. Or you can sign up to receive my email newsletter that comes out every two to three weeks. Check out the link in the show notes. Have a great Christmas and a happy healthy new year.

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