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Agenda item

Visit County Durham - Development and Marketing Activity

(i)          Joint Report of the Director of Transformation and Partnerships and the Corporate Director of Regeneration and Local Services

(ii)         Presentation by the Managing Director, Visit County Durham, Regeneration and Local Services.



The Chairman introduced the Marketing and Communications Manager, Visit County Durham, Sarah Johnson who was in attendance to provide the Committee with an update report in relation to Visit County Durham (VCD) and their development and marketing activity (for copy see file of minutes).


The Marketing and Communications Manager explained that, as the previous target had been achieved three years early, the target for the value of the visitor economy has been revised, and now set as £1 Billion by the end of 2020.  It was noted that this growth would achieve the following impacts: job creation; successful businesses; sustainable businesses; improved visitor offer; better tourism facilities; viable communities; developed offer for visitors and residents; an offer that has adapted to market trends.  She explained that there were 850 core tourism businesses and 500 secondary visitor economy businesses.  It was noted there was tailored training, on elements such as social media, astro-tourism, weddings and industry events that included conferences and networking.  The Marketing and Communications Manager noted that the partnership approach encouraged collaborative working for the benefit of the destination and businesses.

The Committee noted the number of partners in our county and region, including transport and other Local Authorities. 


It was explained that there was a number of partnership example activities, including: Celebrating Durham campaign, featuring activity including East Coast Rail Network and London Underground advertising; LNER and the redesign of the Durham Station walkway; and Port of Tyne, two meetings with Strategic Partners, noting that top destinations for cruise ship passengers were, Alnwick Castle, Durham Cathedral, North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and The Bowes Museum/Barnard Castle.

The Marketing and Communications Manager noted that in terms of destination development and national partnerships there was the Discover England Fund, a £40 million programme announced by Government in 2016 to deliver world class products.  It was explained that VCD was a partner in three large scale bids: England’s Historic Cities – England Originals £1.6 million; the Manchester Gateway Project - £1.5 million; and The Explorer’s Road (A1) - £1.4 million.


Members were referred to a view of the website and noted several partner organisations and initiatives, such as the Northern Saints Trails and the International Dark-Sky Association.  Members were asked to note business support toolkits, for example for walking visitors or cycling visitors.


The Marketing and Communications Manager explained in terms of destination marketing, VCD worked with strategic partners and tourism businesses, with there being two major annual campaigns: Spring – heritage/history; and Autumn – outdoor activity.  Members noted the main aims were to: raise the national profile and appeal of the County; encourage overnight stays, stay longer and spend more; raise shoulder season occupancy; and raise awareness of distinctive Durham experiences.  The Committee noted Anita Rani, television presenter and regular on the Countryfile programme, had been involved in promoting the outdoor activity element for 2017/18.  Members learned of the activities in relation to “This is History”, links to the BBC and articles in the Times newspaper.  Members noted travel blogs and the #Durham19 campaign which celebrates the county’s current Year of Culture, which covers significant events including Lumiere, Cricket World Cup and the reopening of Auckland Castle.  It was explained that VCD had worked with the Evening Standard, Newcastle Chronicle and the Northern Echo as regards articles and spreads within their publications and an Events Guide for 2019, the first of three editions now available.


The Marketing and Communications Manager reminded Members of the upcoming Cricket World Cup, noting The Riverside at Chester-le-Street hosting three of the matches, noting a tour of the trophy taking place 6-8 April and the tournament taking place 30 May – 14 July, specifically in Durham, 28 June, 1 July and 3 July.  It was noted that with a global audience estimated at around 1.5 Billion, this represented an excellent opportunity to showcase the County.


Councillors were asked to note that 2019 represented the 10-year anniversary of Lumiere, the largest light festival in the UK.  It was added that around 240,000 visitors attended in 2017 and the 2019 event would feature highlights from the previous 10 years.


The Marketing and Communications Manager referred the Committee to destination performance data, noting the economic value, numbers of jobs and visitor numbers from 2016 and 2017.


The Chairman thanked the Marketing and Communications Manager and asked as regards VCD working with the Area Action Partnerships (AAPs), specifically the Chester-le-Street AAP in terms of the upcoming Cricket World Cup. 

The Marketing and Communications Manager explained that VCD were liaising with the Principal AAP Coordinator, Andrew Megginson and there have been meetings with the Cricket Club and local businesses.


The Chairman asked the Committee for their comments and questions.


Councillor R Crute noted the positive report and that VCD was bucking national trends.  He was pleased to note the revised target of £1 billion adding that he felt that in order to move towards this, encouraging more overnight stays would be important.  He noted hotel developments in Durham City, Bishop Auckland and Seaham and asked why in those locations.  Councillor R Crute noted from previous experience that in some cases issues such as land assembly could be an issue and asked how we helped promote smaller hotels within our smaller towns and villages.  The Marketing and Communications Manager explained that in terms of why the specific areas were chosen for the Accommodation Study, which was recently recommissioned, she had not led on the project and would obtain information for the committee.   The Marketing and Communications Manager noted that all businesses could receive a record on the County’s official tourism website, with the VCD Partnership Scheme being available to provide additional marketing and support benefits.  Councillor R Crute noted a number of caravans at Crimdon and asked how such parks were promoted.  Councillor E Scott noted the successes as mentioned, and asked regards encouraging overnight stays, citing an example of three holiday lets in Weardale, that were let via AirBnB or similar and were standing empty.  The Marketing and Communications Manager explained that the VCD Development Team could offer advice and she would pass on the relevant details.


Councillor E Adam noted page 34 of the report set out the challenges and opportunities and asked as regards the lack of accommodation, the lack of overnight stays and asked if we worked with organisations such as The Caravan Club, various car clubs and large caravan parks.  He added that the county had a large area that could be promoted in terms of walking and encouraging, at the least a long weekend stay to be able to enjoy the countryside within County Durham.  The Marketing and Communications Manager noted of the two main annual themes, “Outdoors” looked to promote those types of stay. 

She added that there was a prominent section within the “thisisdurham” website which featured all the relevant accommodation.  She noted that VCD did work with partners as suggested and that the most recent campaigns had focussed on walking, cycling and the outdoors.


The Chairman asked about the use of church halls as accommodation.  The Marketing and Communications Manager noted a recent trend of “Champing”, camping in churches, and noted this was an emerging national trend.


Councillor P Howell asked regards a statement on page 34 of the report, “strong neighbouring destination brands” and how we worked to encourage visitors to do both, visit those other locations and County Durham, to maximise numbers and encourage overnight stays.  He added he agreed with other Members that the increase to the target to £1 billion was welcomed and asked what would be done to achieve this in terms of activities.  The Marketing and Communications Manager noted that the figures were robust, and that work was undertaken in partnership, with activities such as The Explorers Road and England Originals involving a number of visitor destinations.  She added that there was close collaboration in terms of other activities with nearby destinations an example being with Northumberland and Cumbria in terms of Dark Skies.  It was explained that the #Durham19 initiative would also look to help reach the £1 billion target, and that capitalising on those key events to help push County Durham from being on people’s “wish list” to become an actual visit. 


The Chairman added that she felt it was important to push the fact that a 20-mile journey in County Durham was a lot quicker than a 20-mile journey in London or other parts of the country, to encourage travel across our county.  Councillor P Howell agreed, adding that travel times rather than distances could be used within promotions.


Councillor J Atkinson noted in the south of the county there was the Stockton to Darlington Railway Project, and that this was an important gateway.  He noted there was a lot of work yet to do in this regard however, asked if VCD were involved and explained that it would be important to be able to sustain through to the bicentennial of the railway in 2025.  The Marketing and Communications Manager noted that the Managing Director, VCD, Michelle Gorman and the Destination Project Manager, VCD, Craig Wilson were involved, and it was acknowledged it was an important project.


Councillor D Hall asked how in terms of visitor experience we captured and measured our strengths and weaknesses, how VCD linked in with colleagues within the wider Regeneration and Local Services directorate in terms of supporting the visitor economy with specific projects, for example the marina at Seaham and the rail station to be built at Horden.  The Marketing and Communications Manager noted the Visitor Experience survey, the next being 2019, asked regards visitor satisfaction and the information was shared with all relevant partners. 

She added that within the County Council there was a Tourism Working Group, and this looked at wider issues such as public realm works and transport.  It was added that there was the Durham Tourism Management Plan (DTMaP) 2016-2020, and this looked at those issues and the priorities for VCD and partners to deliver against, with the link to be shared with the Committee.


Councillor R Crute noted, in reference to the point made by Councillor J Atkinson, that the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee had noted the upcoming bicentenary of the Stockton to Darlington Railway.




(i)              That the report and presentation be noted.

(ii)            That the Economy and Enterprise Overview and Scrutiny Committee includes, in its work programme for 2019/2020 a further progress report detailing the future performance of VCD in marketing the county as a tourism destination, together with examples of marketing undertaken.


Supporting documents:


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
03000 269 714