Visit York Conference 2022 - view of Lendal Bridge c H Reynolds

What does the future look like for UK tourism?

The Visit York Conference 2022 took place online on 13 January 2022. I’m a Trusted Supplier Member of Visit York and thought a quick summary might be helpful. This is a rough and ready blog of my notes, tweets and some key reference website links.


Hosted by BBC Look North & BBC Radio York Presenter Clare Frisby

Welcome by from Sarah Loftus, Managing Director of Make It York

  • Richard Nicholls, Head of Research and Forecasting at Visit Britain
  • Peter Rømer Hansen, Founding Partners of Group NAO
  • Aileen Crawford, Head of Tourism & Conventions at Glasgow Convention Bureau

A panel of tourism businesses from in and around York:

  • Abbi Ollive, Head of Marketing and Sales at Castle Howard
  • Andrew Lowson, Executive Director at York BID
  • Rebecca Hill, Managing Director at Galtres Lodge
  • Kate McFerran, Communications Director at LNER

Event Close by Greg Dyke, Make It York Board Chair

Presentations and recording

Head to the Visit York Tourism Conference page for the presentation slides and 2 hour Zoom recording.

Clare Frisby’s intro

“Walking around York during the height of lockdown was eerie. The buildings were majestic but the silence was chilling. What a contrast last weekend was!”

Make It York’s welcome

Great video by Visit York on what’s been happening over the last two years. 8.9 million visitors in 2019 generating £909 million.

Personally I thought a lot had returned for the 2021 Christmas market. It was packed!

Visit Britain: When will international tourism return?

  • Flight bookings down from China and NorthEast Asia, but picking up from North America.
  • Arrivals to UK down about 50% in Dec 2021
  • Web searches on flights fell as soon as Omicron emerged but starting to pick up
  • Long term inbound tourism back to pre-COVID by 2025? But report came out pre Omicron
  • Inbound traveller sentiment from 13 countries including US, China, France
  • In Aug 21 30% had decided where to go but not booked travel/accommodation
  • Visiting friends/relatives around 34%
  • Top Euro destinations by country: UK in Top 5 for Irish Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden

Survey results

“I will look for less crowded places to visit, even if it means missing must-see attractions” – around 70% but not anti-city in general. As large cities popular with most.
“Consider sustainability impact” – around 60%

See the full results in the Inbound Covid-19 sentiment tracker

From Q and A session

  • Visit Britain will be starting advertising in North American and Europe in February 2022
  • Foreign markets are a real mix of long-term and last minute travel plans

Tourism for a better city – Group NAO

What other places do:

Pandemic has given cities time to redesign. For example Amsterdam is concentrating on sustainability.

Big shift to value tourism. This means high value spending tourists and not being overrun. And who appreciate us.

Marketing to attract labour and encourage hospitality workers. This ranges from cities to ski resorts such as Whistler.

Return of ‘localhoods’: “Your new fav Athenian neighbourhood”
Rethink city centres. Paris talks of being a 15 minute city, Stockholm a 1 minute city. Park scooter/bicycle, hang out, close entire streets Culture to recover – Le voyage a Nantes
Tourism stepping up for climate action

Some key learnings

  1. The city belongs to the citizens
  2. More visitors isn’t a goal in itself
  3. Tourism can be a regenerative resource
  4. Leadership needed re: sustainability
  5. Tourism is a fluid concept

Lessons for York

Lots of talk and thought about how to improve but:

“The danger is all of these interviews / feedback sessions / consultations / reports just becomes PDFs and we don’t implement them. Maybe there’s an element of that in York?”

  • Need to address issues on transport, parking and other issues
  • Potential to be more edgy and contemporary
  • You are a university city
  • There’s a bit of complacency

From Q and A session

  • Q: What does York need to do going forward?
  • A: Invest more, risk more, be bolder. Sort out funding models.
  • Q: Locals re-claimed the city during pandemic. How can this be sustained?
  • A: In Europe, tourism councils include residents. You must keep the conversation going with the community.
  • Q: Regarding “Valuable tourism” – how do we do this? Hen/stag nights bring in the money!
  • A: Attract other forms of visitor to bring in same money. In Amsterdam they want to “manage the night”. Put budget where values are.

Becoming a sustainable destination – Glasgow Convention Bureau

  • Glasgow signed up to sustainable initatives/standards to be “authentic in our credentials “
  • ‘Green hotels in X’ are Trip Advisor and Expedia categories
  • Offer support to conference organisers. Can they tweak or change something? Walk/cycle around city, local produce when dining. Or reuse your towel, consider water wastage when showering…
  • Follow UN Sustainability goals

More ideas at Glasgow Convention Bureau

From Q and A session

Q: What can Yorkshire learn from Scotland’s UNESCO Trail for Visitors?
A: Visit Scotland created this. It disperses visitors but has sustainability at its heart.

Talking Heads panel

Castle Howard

It’s been unpredictable but had a record-breaking Christmas. Pre-ticketing helped and created a better visitor experience. Looked at demand-based pricing.

Split site staycation/visit on the rise.

A lot more dog owners around. So now offer guided dog walks by gamekeeper and hedgerow tours.

York BID

In Dec 2021, 30% of visitors to the city centre were York residents within outer ring road

York footfall only 5% down on 2019. National figures were 22% down.

Opening up outside spaces like College Green are what we need going forward.

York Central, Castle Gateway, Coney St will need to be redesigned with community hubs and meeting rooms. They need to be more than just retail.


Trains brought 500,000 people to York in 2021.

Leisure has led our recovery. 2021 summer better than pre-Covid.

The average Chinese tourist spends £2,400. Chinese students in York strong advocates.

All LNER trains into York are electric. From France, rail to York doesn’t rank highly. Need to look at end-to-end journey. Need to work together to help sustainability.

Working with international bloggers / influencers to expand awareness.

Galtres Lodge / York Hospitality Association

Regarding hen and stag dos: This needs to go to council level. How much of that market do we want in York? National chain hotel guests are more likely to go to national chain bars and restaurants. Boutique hotel guests spend more with indie businesses. And 65% of York businesses are independent. So a mix would be better.

Event Close

My conclusions?

There were some really helpful insights and aims. But they need to be actioned. In the six years I’ve lived in York, I’ve many an ambitious Action Plan fall by the wayside.

Just a few small thoughtful things would help. Here are some ideas:

  • Replace ugly concrete traffic blockers with carved stonework
  • Regularly clean the graffiti from Lendal tunnel on the way to the National Railway Museum
  • Grit pavements on main roads coming into the city centre
  • Bring back the illumination festivals fusing the contemporary with heritage
  • Make access to the Scarborough line pedestrian bridge more obvious and welcoming at the railway station

About the author

Helen Reynolds is a freelancer writing Google and customer-friendly websites, posts and blogs. Her clients include Yorkshire Dales National Park, Durham Cathedral and Hadrian’s Wall Country.

She was the first ever e-commerce editor for First Choice Holidays in Gatwick. Helen also managed the Lake District National Park’s websites and social media for 11 years.