Yorkshire tourist chief's plea to support Harrogate's b & bs and small businesses

The new chief of Welcome to Yorkshire is calling on b &bs and small businesses in the Harrogate district to get in touch with him as he prepares to deliver an urgent message to the Chancellor for new and immediate action to avoid "a huge raft of businesses going under" in the tourism industry.

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 12:28 pm
Battling for future of county's tourism sector - Welcome to Yorkshire's chief executive James Mason. (Photographcourtesy of Andrew Taylor @marketing)

In a week which has seen Welcome to Yorkshire itself put a third of its staff on furlough, chief executive James Mason said, while Government actions so far were welcome, the gap between tourism and visitor businesses limping along and facing economic extinction was a matter of days, not months.

Which is why Harrogate guest houses and small businesses in the visitor and tourism sector are being asked to contact Welcome To Yorkshire online as soon as possible as it prepares to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak for more support.

In a no-nonsense warning, Mr Mason said, although Harrogate was a tourism gem in the county, he understood that without footfall during the coronavirus lockdown it was a race against time to ensure everything possible was being done to ensure that businesses were able to get through the crisis.

Mr Mason said: "I urge businesses in the tourism and visitor sector to get in contact with Welcome to Yorkshire online to raise their concerns.

"We are currently preparing a submission to put to the Chancellor in the next few days and are in touch with Yorkshire MPs.

"We will be urging a change of policy with immediate action rather than in two or three months' time.

"The gap between limping along and going out of business is fast approaching.

"B & Bs and small businesses and attractions are the lifeblood of Yorkshire tourism.

"These are the businesses facing extinction in the next few days.

"Never before have we seen such drastic policy changes as we have in recent weeks and this is to the Government's credit.

"But they need to change again to prevent an economic pandemic."

Mr Mason, 41, who took over from Sir Gary Verity after a troubled year which saw Welcome to Yorkshire bailed out by a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council to prevent it running out of money and being unable to pay staff, is already planning ahead to better times next year.

In the longer run, his focus is not only on supporting the recovery of the tourism sector once the Covid-19 crisis passes but in improving Welcome to Yorkshire as an organisation, reducing its cost base and, once again, becoming the champion of its members needs with a drive for new members.

But Mr Mason said it was the immediate threat to people whose living is made in the Yorkshire tourism economy that was the first priority.

He said, although grants would be the better option, business interruption loans had a vital role to play during the shutdown - even if businesses disliked building up debt when they were already struggling,

A suspension of business rates was also essential.

And Mr Mason urged all businesses to set pride aside and take grants when available.

Mr Mason said: "We would urge b & b owners and others to get in touch. We are building up anecdotal evidence and I will be be putting it to the Government as a matter of urgency.

"We want to make sure businesses are still in good shape to get going again when we are on the other side of coronavirus."

The former chief operating officer of Bradford City Football Club is no stranger to Harrogate.

His mother-in-law and father-in-law live in the town and among his family's favourite places to visit are RHS Harlow Carr Garden, the Harrogate Spring Flower Show and Bettys tearooms.

It hurts him to see tourism in lockdown but he is confident Harrogate can play a starring role when the sector bounces back after the coronavirus crisis eases.

Mr Mason said: "We need to use Harrogate as a springboard for the rest of the county with its boutique and cafe culture.

"As one of the top destinations in the country Harrogate is a flagship for what Yorkshire has to offer the world."