THE CHICHESTER district is missing out on millions of pounds of potential investment from tourism every year.
These are the conclusions so far of a working group set up to examine the flagging tourism industry in the area.
Gordon McAra is heading the task and finish group for Chichester District Council.
He claimed Visit Chichester, which was set up by the council, was ‘not fit for purpose’, adding all the tourist organisations in the area were failing to work together.
“Nobody’s in charge of it. There’s no focus,” he told the council’s overview and scrutiny committee meeting on July 3.
He added there were numerous organisations to boost tourism, such as Visit Chichester, Visit Midhurst, the South Downs National Park Authority, West Sussex County Council and many more, but they were not working together.
“It’s disparate, it’s not joined up. That’s what the working party is trying to pull together.”
The group’s findings were supported by Stephen Oates, the district’s economic development manager.
“Tourism is essential to the economy,” he said.
Around £144m is put into the Chichester district economy every year by more than five million day trips to the area, according to figures from Visit England.
However, only £75m comes in from around 405,000 ‘stay trips’, with the committee saying more needed to be done to encourage people to stay overnight in the area.
Concern was expressed that at the recent Festival of Speed, people were forced to stay in Brighton and Southampton as there was nowhere to stay in the Chichester district.
Mr Oates and the task group said the district should be the subject of a better destination management organisation (DMO), a group set up to oversee the visitor economy, with a lot of private and public sector organisations taking an overview.
“It’s a partnership. It’s a cultural thing,” he added, saying the council needed to put itself in tourists’ shoes to see how the district could better encourage tourism.
He said if the base of a good visitor economy was there, this would encourage more businesses to invest in the area, which would in turn lead to even more money coming into the area.
“The real answer is that we’ve got to get the visitor economy so that hotel chains are attracted,” he said.
He said DMOs in other parts of the country had clearly boosted the economy and everyone saw the benefits of working together. “That’s what should be happening. That’s what we should be driving towards,” he added.
Councillors supported the call for a DMO.
“I’ve had concerns for some time about Visit Chichester and what it was able to achieve,” said Councillor Bob Hayes. “In the report what I think far more is that you’ve highlighted the way to go forward. “
The task group cited Durham, Manchester, Kent, the Isle of Wight, York and Winchester as places where DMOs had been effective.
The task and finish group was concerned that in its current form, Visit Chichester did not substantially raise the profile of the district as a visitor destination, or strategically manage the visitor economy to fully exploit the economic potential to create jobs.
The organisation was set up as a private-public membership organisation headed by a non-executive board of directors.
The board is currently weighted in favour of the public sector.
The organisation has a budget of £70,000 per year to market the area.
According to the council: “Visit Chichester places a lot of importance in developing its website and social media feeds.
“Despite this, the website does not provide a sufficiently good or responsive service for today’s customers.
“However they have advised that this is being reviewed and updated.”
The working group found tourism businesses did not regard the current form of destination management organisation (DMO) as vital for their business and did not involve themselves with it.
It was for this reason the committee called for the DMO to be overhauled and encourage more private sector involvement.
The south-east attracts the highest tourism spend for any region outside London.
In Chichester district, tourism and leisure generates significant direct expenditure and is the largest private-sector employer.
According to data collected by Visit England:
- There are 5.2 million day-trips a year to the Chichester district, generating a spend of £144m.
- There are 405,000 staying trips each year, equating to 1.3 million ‘bed nights’ and generating a spend of around £75m.
- There are around 7,I00 jobs in tourism and leisure, plus numerous support jobs.
- In 2009, Chichester District Council entered into a District Management Partnership with Visit Chichester (VC).
- CDC gave a grant every year to VC from April, 2009, to March, 2012, after which the council ceased funding.
- VC was envisaged to ‘develop a new approach to serving and developing the tourism sector’, but it struggled.
- VC’s funding is now well below that of five years ago.
- In 2012, the council reviewed its provision of tourist information services, with the Midhurst and Petworth branches closing.
Chichester’s tourist information centre was relocated to the Novium.
- In September, 2013, CDC’s overview and scrutiny committee heard from VC about issues it faced.
- A task and finish group was convened in January, 2014, to look at expanding the visitor economy and boosting tourism to the Chichester district.
Role of a DMO
Economic development manager Stephen Oates backed the creation of a destination management organisation (DMO) for the Chichester district.
The DMO would manage planning, development and marketing of the Chichester district as well as how it was managed physically, financially, operationally and in other ways.
UPDATE - July 16, 2014
A response to this article will appear in tomorrow’s Chichester Observer (July 17) from Andrew Clegg, chairman of Visit Chichester.