How York will bounce back from Covid by thinking big – Sarah Loftus

What future for tourism in York two years after the pandemic?

Then, two years ago this weekend, Britain’s first case of Covid was discovered in York, causing one of the most difficult times for the tourism and hospitality industry.

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After two turbulent years, York is bouncing back, with many positives to take away, including a record-breaking Christmas for the city.

Sarah Loftus is Managing Director of Make It York.

In December 2021, York City Center footfall was only 5% lower than in 2019, compared to the national average of -22%.

We saw record numbers of traffic during Visit York in December and many businesses in the city had a more successful December than 2019.

As a city, we should be proud of what we have accomplished. Through the activity of Visit York alone, we have had 20 million impressions on our social media channels over the past two years, 800,000 engagements and gained over 14,000 new subscribers.

In terms of our Visit York membership, we have hosted 45 online member events over the past two years, including training events focusing on social media, customer service and Google listings, as well as a wide variety of tasting and charity events.

What future for tourism in York two years after the pandemic?

We also grew our membership during this period, attracting 116 new members and achieving our best retention rate at 94%, with over 850 members in total.

But what next? As we continue to envision tourism in a post-pandemic world, I am tasked with leading York’s tourism strategy for the next three years.

While there are many positives to take away, there are also areas of our tourism sector that have yet to come back, including international tourism.

At this year’s virtual Visit York Tourism conference in January, we heard from Rebecca Hill of Galtres Lodge Hotel and Restaurant about how the majority of businesses in York have not been hugely affected by the loss of international travel .

These lost markets were quickly replaced by staycationers and residents who would rediscover their town. So this begs the question, do we really need international tourists to survive? And to what extent should we, as a destination management organization, focus on international tourism in the future?

There were many big topics that came out of this year’s Visit York Tourism conference that need to be addressed; including the rise of bachelor and hen parties in York, and how York is becoming a green city and leading the way in sustainability.

I have a big job to do, but my vision is for Visit York to be the best destination management organization in the UK – after all, York has been voted the best city in the UK.

But how to meet this challenge for the future?

How will the hospitality and tourism sector rebuild and strengthen in the wake of the pandemic?

How do we attract the right tourism for York?

What do we need to put in place to help the sector grow, recover and become more resilient to whatever hits us in the future?

At Make It York and Visit York, we need to think big, be ambitious and build on the strength that York has gained. We have the ability to build something very special.

My aim is to rebuild York to those 8.4m pre-Covid visitors, but I don’t necessarily think we have to exceed that. Our strategy is to attract visitors who love and respect York as residents do, encouraging them to stay longer, spend more and have a positive impact on York’s economy.

We also need to ensure that we continue to nurture our relationships with residents. What we have seen during the lockdown are residents rediscovering their city and supporting our businesses. This is something that figured prominently in the “Y Tourism? report we ordered.

Speaking to partners across the city, they highlighted a need for urban development and maintaining a strong connection with locals who have rediscovered York city center during Covid.

We’re lucky that York has so much to offer – heritage, culture, a college town and independent businesses – but we must not let complacency stop us from exploring our full potential as a creative, inclusive and innovative place to visit.

As I begin my second month at Make It York and Visit York, I am finalizing our 2022 strategy which will be released in April.

In this report, I will outline how Make It York will provide residents and visitors with key goals to easily measure our progress.

In the meantime, Yorkshire can help us shape the future of tourism in York and what it looks like.

We hope 2022 will be a much more positive year as we continue to rebuild from the pandemic.

We will continue to support our members, organize free events for residents and visitors, implement York’s creative future and celebrate Shambles Market. And we look forward to welcoming you back to York.

Sarah Loftus is Managing Director of Make It York.

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