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Analysis

Yorkshire: a tourist destination with more than one trick up its sleeve

One of the cradles of the industrial revolution, Yorkshire has an important and diverse manufacturing heritage as well as a rich tourism and natural heritage. The destination thus seduces a growing number of visitors, who come for a change of scenery and a wide range of activities, but also for business and MICE facilities. Indicators for the local hotel market are in the green and offer an encouraging outlook. Does it have what it takes to continue to attract investments, without suffering and perhaps even benefiting from “Brexit”?

Located in the North of England, on the North Sea, Yorkshire is the biggest region in Great Britain in terms of surface area. It is divided into four counties (North, South, West and East Yorkshire) and has a total of 5.3 million inhabitants, representing 8.4% of the population of the United Kingdom. With a PIB close to £21,700 per inhabitant in 2015, the region is just below the British average (£27,100), a legacy of its industrial pole. While the territory has gone through an important transition phase over the last couple of decades, when it shifted from an economy based on manufacturing to a predominantly service-oriented industry, the secondary sector remains important. Jobs for skilled workers represent 11.7% of its workforce, positioning the region in second place in Great Britain.

The region has several agglomerations that are the economic centers. The most important is Leeds, which is the second financial center in Great Britain after London, and thus relies on a dynamic tertiary sector. Commercial real estate projects that developed there in the last decade represent an investment of around £4 billion and the projects under development are estimated at £5.8 billion. Sheffield, another major agglomeration, has historically developed in the steel and silverware industries, and today it is also known for engineering and development in IT. Finally, port activity in Hull positions that city in fourth place in Northern Europe (each year the port handles more than 12m tons of cargo).



Hull will be the cultural capital of the United Kingdom in 2017 and will host the Turner Prize, which each year recognizes a contemporary artist under fifty years of age, who lives or works in Great Britan. The City of Lille will also reopen the Ferens Art Gallery this year after an investment of £70m. Finally, natural resources lie at the heart of its development, as the Green Port Hull project shows, representing a £1 billion investment: the goal is to make it a pole for renewable energy, particularly through the development of offshore wind energy.

An economic and strategic development plan for the territory of Sheffield (Integrated Infrastructure Plan) of £28 billion has also been revealed. Financed through a public-private partnership it especially focuses on the airline travel market with the renovation of existing infrastructures at the Doncaster Sheffield airport, reinforcement of the region’s accessibility, and even innovation in sustainable energy and the digital world. The goal is to increase economic benefits by £3.1 billion, create 70,000 jobs, 6,000 businesses and 70,000 accommodations by 2025. In this way local authorities wish to create an environment that fosters entrepreneurship by offering its investors comparative advantages. It may be observed that the committee benefited from direct foreign investments in 2015 that were up by 66% compared to 2014 with no fewer than 83 major projects targeting the region of Yorkshire & Humber (source: EY’s Global Investment Monitor 2016).

But Yorkshire and Humber is not just an industrial territory: it is also known for its natural touristic heritage, with typically British landscapes and architecture. The tourism industry generates close to 8 billion euros a year (£7 billion), and the sector employs close to 250,000, or 7% of the region’s total work force. The historic capital of the North of England, York, has attracted 6.8 million tourists, a figure that is up by 1.5% according to York Destination Management Organisation. Tourism represents 10% of the economy of the city, which is one of the leading tourism poles in the region thanks to its fortifications and medieval city.



Yorkshire has two sites listed with UNESCO: Studley Royal Park, with the ruins of the Cistercian Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, and the industrial village of Saltaire, located in Western Yorkshire. The region also offers a broad range of museums, an abbey, as well as two natural parks, the North York Moors National Park and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The latter, opened in 1954, is doing significantly more than traditional missions of preservation and public reception: in this light, it launched a proactive “open data” policy allowing the general public free access to its accounting and heritage–as the park owns many parcels and buildings. The park has also focused on the sector of renewable energies through the Yorkshire Dale National Park Sustainable Development Fund, which sponsored 272 projects and invested £2.3 million in the sector in the past, 15 years.

Yorkshire also has a good reputation for its gastronomic offerings. In its more than 143 brasseries, the destination has no fewer than six Michelin-starred restaurants, placing it at the head of counties with the most stars outside London. For about 150 years the region has also been a production pole for rhubarb which is hand-picked from January to March in the “Rhubarb Triangle” which is Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. This tradition is so well established that each year it holds a “Rhubarb Festival” in Wakefield. This year it will be held from February 17 to 19.

In addition to its tourism sites, the destination is also conducive to business tourism with 440 seminar rooms of which 27 are able to accommodate more than 1,000. To boost this segment, accessibility is a major challenge. It is a two-hour train trip from London to Leeds and York. By plane, the region particularly relies on two airports: Leeds-Bradford and DoncasterSheffield. A strategic development plan, “Route to 2030”, was launched at the Leeds-Bradford airport with a goal to welcome 7.1 million passengers per year starting in 2030, versus the current 3.5 million passengers per year, which is already an historic record.  In addition to strengthening its international accessibility, this plan also includes the creation of a hotel property in the airport zone.



Hotel chains have more than 200 hotels with more than 18,000 rooms in the region. In addition to the British champions Premier Inn and respectively Travelodge, with 3,874 and 1,901 rooms in 2016, several global groups have established themselves in Yorkshire’s agglomerations, particularly InterContinental Hotel Group (primarily under the Holiday Inn brand), AccorHotels (under ibis brands, but also Mercure and Novotel) and Hilton Worldwide (under its eponymous brand and DoubleTree).

The region currently benefits from major investments in the hotel sector. In the city of Hull, close to £1 million have been invested in the renovation of Mercure Hull Grange Park Hotel (100 rooms). In York, The Grand Hotel & Spa will receive major investments of £15 million including the creation of 100 rooms (for a total of 207 rooms), the creation of a new restaurant seating 140, and the renovation of work spaces. The property is expected to reopen at the end of 2017. The chain EasyHotel has also announced the development of a property in Leeds in a former theater (94 rooms) and a unit in Sheffield (131 rooms). Travelodge also hopes to develop 13 units in the region by 2022, for an investment of £80m.

To boost demand, several campaigns have been launched since 2009, under the slogan “Welcome to Yorkshire”. Over the last three years this campaign represented an investment of £76 million, with a goal to increasing the value of tourism by 5% per year and strengthening the destination’s appeal and notoriety, while focusing on its cultural heritage and dynamism by creating a territorial brand unifying the region. This operation has undoubtedly contributed to the increase in tourism revenues, from £5.9 billion in 2009 to £7 billion today.

Yorkshire benefits from an international media showcase through the organization of the 490 km Tour de Yorkshire that will be held this year from April 28 to 30, 2017. This initiative was developed further to the success and economic benefits from Yorkshire’s participation in the Tour de France as the starting line for the event in 2014. On this occasion, 4.8 million fans generated £102 m for the county, according to a report published by the city of Leeds. In order to continue along this trajectory, “Welcome to Yorkshire” has organized its own cycling event since 2015.  The last edition contributed to an 8% increase in tourist spending in the 2nd quarter 2016, with a net increase in number of visitors from Spain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Canada and Poland. Sir

Gary Verity, CEO Welcome to Yorkshire, is pleased with the result: “Latest figures show a huge public appetite for the Tour de Yorkshire which last year saw some 2 million spectators line the route, who generated nearly £60 million for the local economy (source: Leeds Beckett University). That’s a 20% increase on the 2015 race which has smashed all targets.” He also has a positive outlook for tourism potential in the region: “Yorkshire is busier than ever with all four corners of the county hosting events throughout the year. The profile of Yorkshire has never been higher and we will continue to do all we can to promote the county and keep visitors coming!”



The figures are telling: in 2016, according to data from the observatory at MKG Consulting OlaKala Destinations, the RevPAR for hotel chains in the region grew by 4.7% compared to 2015. This situation translates the favorable trend of the hotel market, particularly since the occupancy rate is high, settling at 75.6% in the chain hotel sector (up +0.8 points over 2015). This compensates for an average daily rate that remains low (£58.1).

The currently low exchange rate of the British pound could represent an additional advantage to attract domestic and foreign travellers alike who wish to stay in the country. Since the referendum that voted in favor of Brexit, the confused image of the United Kingdom in Europe has made the British pound drop in recent months. For the first time since 1985, the pound fell below $1.27. Its value thus fell 13% compared to the dollar, according to The Independent. Experts from HSBC estimate that the value could fall to $1.10 by the end of 2017. But that is not the only effect Brexit will have: the Yorkshire Post indicates that 47% of products exported by Yorkshire go to the European Union, this decision could represent a loss of close to £4.3 billion.

And for the tourism industry? Gary Verity sketches a scenario: “No one knows for certain what a post-EU UK would look like but it could be a lot more expensive for domestic travellers to fly abroad. Perhaps this means there will be a boom in the staycation with more and more people looking to stay within the UK and looking at Yorkshire as somewhere to spend their break.” That should keep hotels that are in the pipeline full once they open.

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