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Gillian Cruddas: York is a small city but with great potential ahead

Ms. Gillian Cruddas, Chief Executive of York Tourism Bureau analyzed in TravelDailyNews the reasons for the top European award that York received during the European Cities Tourism Awards ceremony which took place in Athens, Greece as well as York’s future plans.

TravelDailyNews: What are your feelings for being European Tourism City of the Year?

Gillian Cruddas: I am very excited. Pleasantly surprised, because York is a relatively small city which was compared with much larger tourism destinations. We are a small city with big ambitions but generally we are very pleased with the outcome. And at the ceremony itself, when they showed us the films with Gothenburg and Valencia, the scale of what they were doing compared to some of the things we do in York it really was very exciting to get this award. It has given us confidence that we are doing something and now we can use this as a platform to move forward and do things better in the future. Also, it will help us raise our profile as a destination.

TDN: According to your opinion, what are the reasons that contributed to this award?

G. C.: The judges told us that we received this award because we have a good visitor experience as there are lots of things for the visitor to do and there is evidence of 2000 years of history all around you. The festivals and events that we hold, the public – private sector partnership that we have in York and the way that we promote the city especially through our website, the emails and how we respond to inquiries.

TDN: How important is the public-private sector partnership plan for York and how does it work?

G. C.: I am very fond to believe that tourism can never be successful unless you have the public and the private sector involved. Twenty years ago the public sector in York decided that they didn’t want tourism so the private sector formed a private company – that time was called the visitors and conference bureau and we changed it to tourism bureau three years ago – and then 12 years ago the public sector had a change of heart and they came on board in the partnership, because the traditional manufacturing industries were declining and they realized that they had to invest in tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors. But, because we already had eight years of building support from businesses, we now have 570 members in and around York and in total they give us about one million pounds and we only take 200,000 pounds from the local authority but it is important money to us and hopefully we can build on the support we get from the public sector.

TDN: How many tourists visited York during 2006 and how much did they spend?

G. C.: We had slightly over four million visitors and they stayed on average 3 nights. The number of people employed in the industry is now over 10% of the work force which is good. 79% of the visitors have been to the city before and this is very important as we think new ways to get them back such as new festivals and events, investments in the exhibition industry. One of the things we are little bit disappointed is that overseas visitors are down and this has to do with the exchange rates, competition from short break destinations as a result of the budget airlines and we need to find ways to work with them and offer good value for money.

TDN: What are your expectations regarding visitor arrivals in the rest of 2007 and 2008?

G. C.: Optimistic. We had a good start for the year with a positive feeling particularly on the conference side as we balanced the conference with the leisure and that works very well. The attractions are telling us the numbers are up, the hotels and guest houses experience strong inquiries but people tend to book very last minute which is a bit scary, but I think that we will have a good summer. We always have a very strong numbers in the end of the year especially in September, October and November weekends and they lead up to Christmas as York is an ideal place for Christmas shopping and we organize many festivities during that period.

TDN: MICE sector is a big issue for every destination. What are York’s initiatives towards this direction?

G. C.: The conference business in York is worth about 8 million pounds of the 300+ million in total. We don’t have a large conference center but we do have a center that is being refurbished and will open next year. But what we do have is very unusual buildings, medieval halls which a lot of conference organizers like to use because they are different from the conference centers in hotels. We attract smaller conferences, smaller meetings but they are good for the city’s economy. We are ideally placed as we are in the middle between London and Edinburgh so people are coming from different parts of Britain and for our overseas visitors there are very good transportation links from the airport to the city.

TDN: What kind of problems does York face today?

G. C.: I suppose the biggest problem we have is in the investment sector. Investments in the tourism infrastructure, transport infrastructure. We don’t have many overseas investors. On the festivals and events side we have a lot of ideas but sometimes we don’t have the sources to make them more known to the visitors and they sometimes become more community-like events. In order to make them more internationally important we will need investment.

TDN: What’s new for York in the coming period?

G. C.: I suppose from the visitors’ point of view, we have just launched a direct coach link from the airport and this will be very good. We are going to promote that very strongly. We have got the refurbished conference center and we have got some investment in the museums. We have also got three potential four star hotels being built but they are is on the planning stage at the moment. They are international brands and it will be very good not just for attracting new visitors but also for the other hotels which will raise their level status. We are also hoping to have a five star hotel.

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