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The benefits of community tourism projects in the public sector

Guest blog by Nicole New of responsible tourism charity Hidden Britain

Delivery of tourism services is at the discretion of local authorities and it is an easy area to dismiss as frivolous when budgets are tight. However, tourism is the third largest sector in the UK, so by harnessing people’s passions for their area, we at Hidden Britain have consistently found linking local authorities and tourism is a fundamental aspect of bolstering local economic growth.

Hidden Britain is a sustainable tourism charity working with UK communities, local government and the private sector to create long-term economic stability using tourism initiatives. We have over 10 years’ experience delivering multifaceted, multi-scale projects, and there are a great number of benefits that the public sector can bring and utilise.

The most obvious benefit is that getting on board with tourism projects taps into a massive economic driver. Towns and villages have a lot already on offer, restaurants, B&Bs and heritage. By packaging services and experiences together it is relatively simple to create a product that visitors will want.

Thus rather than just going for a meal, a visitor will go for a meal, buy some local produce and stay over, increasing visitor spend significantly. Councils are in the best position to start this type of collaboration as they have good links with relevant stakeholders and useful information at their fingertips, a lot of the information required is already available.

Packaging experiences increases revenue generation. The economic impact supports the strategic role of the public sector within the economy and where community-led tourism is harnessed this can counter budget cuts.

In Hassocks, West Sussex, Hidden Britain worked on the delivery of a community cycle hire facility alongside the public sector. The project was designed so that it would cover its own costs, enable the development of new jobs and also generate income for the area over time. The facility is run by volunteers who have brought expertise to the project as well as new volunteers gaining new expertise in bicycle maintenance and hire.

As the Hassocks example illustrates, community tourism projects are a great way to enhance and foster strong relationships across the breadth of the community. This is extremely important for the smooth running of public services, and also creates a greater sense of involvement and connection between different groups. One of the main issues faced by local authorities trying to delve into tourism is getting potentially competing businesses to work together for the greater good.

If community tourism workshops and training days are run with mixed groups they act as networking tools for driven and likeminded people. They are a source of inspiration for a community and by working as a group there is a push towards taking action and getting things done.

This means that different facets of a project can be delivered externally with the public sector acting to guide and support, rather than manage and drive, which can be time consuming and costly.

South Oxfordshire and The Vale of White Horse district councils got over 300 businesses involved in their OxTrails tourism initiative last year. The OxTrails project used a smartphone app to connect the businesses on themed trails. Businesses that stood out as very unique were featured as main stops, and businesses that linked to them were featured as nearby places. This gave the opportunity to strengthen relationships within the business community, as well as supporting local economic plans by raising awareness of the interesting things on offer in the region.

Finally, community tourism projects create a localised thought-pool for development planning in an area. Having an engaged business community and local volunteers makes getting hold of a local perspective on plans quicker and more effective. By bringing out people’s passion for their area there is the potential for discussion and ideas to be passed around in a friendly and focussed way rather than battling for opinions once strategy is underway.

While working on the Country Breaks, (a selection of pre-planned days out) project in Sheppey, Kent, destination marketing workshops were set up to help focus the tourism team on what they could deliver, not just what they wanted. By working out the potential in advance through discussion and training it was much easier to put together the final guides.

We can conclude that without the guidance and support provided by the local authorities in the above examples, the projects would have been much harder to bring to fruition, and would have been more haphazard and sporadic in their set-ups. Local authority is the glue that brings community tourism together.

Hidden Britain is a community-focussed, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to using rural tourism expertise to uncover and promote the best of rural Britain. We bring communities, businesses and authorities together to help share what they love about where they live for sustainable, economic and social benefit.


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