Chris Baron: Growing the Greater Lincolnshire visitor economy

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The visitor economy is one of the top three priority sectors in our area, and the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership has set itself the challenge to double the value of the sector by 2020.

The visitor economy is made up of the businesses and services which support people who come to the area for a variety of reasons: for holidays and day trips, on business or to visit relatives and friends.

How are we doing so far? Well, we’ve made a good start: in 2015 the value of the visitor economy in Greater Lincolnshire was just over £2 billion, having grown in value by £350 million in the four years since the LEP was set up.

We’ve set up a Visitor Economy Board which will guide development in the visitor economy sector. The board met for the first time in May, bringing together 20 senior figures with an interest in the Greater Lincolnshire visitor economy.

Our approach so far has been first to highlight how the needs of visitors are considered and woven into broader economic development activity, and second to identify activity that will have a positive effect.

Examples of this approach include measures to protect our rapidly eroding coastline; transport plans that support housing development and improve access to visitor hotspots; water management initiatives such as the Boston Barrier that will produce new visitor-oriented activities; a new transport hub in Lincoln improving access into and around the county; a place marketing project designed to raise the profile of Greater Lincolnshire; and investment in core products such as Lincoln Castle.

We’ve been working with local councils on future priorities and delivery arrangements, and much progress has been made. Good market intelligence is critical to good decision-making, whether that be on investment, promotions or product development, and essential in ensuring that Greater Lincolnshire becomes more customer-focused.

We are mindful of the need to provide the extra housing that will be required to support the growth of the visitor economy, and we are also working together with local and national government and the utilities sector to overcome the obstacles to growth caused by poor infrastructure that cannot be tackled by individual businesses on their own.

The links between tourism and culture are obvious and ideally the planning of both should be mutually supportive; aspects of culture provide some of the most compelling reasons to visit a place and tourists often provide the economic rationale for staging significant cultural events. An example of where the two have met most recently is Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary and the events that celebrated Lincoln’s place in those national celebrations.

Success breeds success and the lessons learned were rolled out in 2016 when the poppies installation visited Lincoln Castle and 530,000 people saw them over a three-month period.

The £22m investment at Lincoln Castle has enabled these prestigious events to take place, none more so than this summer, when Domesday Book is on show in Lincoln. Domesday Book is the single most important item in our national archive and it records the Lincolnshire of 1086 in meticulous detail.

There is still a shortage of visitor accommodation in Lincolnshire, but there are positive signs of growth here, including an extension to the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Lincoln and the opening last week of a new Hampton by Hilton hotel at Humberside Airport.

Several visitor attractions are seeing major investment too, including the International Bomber Command Centre near Lincoln which will open later this year, a new designer outlet village planned for Grantham and the North Sea Observatory at Chapel Point which is under construction.

As we grow the visitor economy it’s vital that the sector moves from (often seasonal) job creation to the development of sustainable careers in what is the third largest employment sector in the UK. Businesses in our area can now access fully funded training for their workforce through a programme called Skills Support to the Workforce. Training providers right across Greater Lincolnshire are participating, and a range of businesses have already benefited from receiving fully funded World Host training and other relevant courses.

Meanwhile the RDPE Growth Programme provides funding for projects which will create jobs and growth in the rural economy. This includes grants (minimum £50,000 per project) for capital investments to develop and grow tourism in rural areas.  Five LEADER programmes also run across Greater Lincolnshire that include a measure to boost rural tourism, and these tend to support schemes that want smaller amounts of funding (under £50,000).

The planned growth we set ourselves looks challenging, but as you can see it is leading to the investment in Greater Lincolnshire’s cherished assets and opening them up to more people, which can only be a good thing for our economy as a whole.

Chris Baron has been Resort Director at Butlins in Ingoldmells since 2000. He joined the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership in 2011 as the representative for the visitor economy and the coastal strip in general. He is also the Chair of the East Lincolnshire Destination Management Organisation and a member of East Lindsey Local Strategic Partnership.