Dudley – getting tourism recognised in a non-traditional destination
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has established a clear strategic and corporate focus for the visitor economy. Through partnership working and engaging with the local community, tourism is now seen as a vital economic driver for regeneration.
Key lessons for other councils
- Having the visitor economy as a ‘golden thread' running through all corporate strategies and plans is an effective way of securing success
- Getting the visitor economy onto the corporate agenda takes time and is dependent on the vision and commitment of the staff involved.
- Working with the local community helps to counter negative perceptions and encourages people to champion their area.
- Non-traditional destinations can engage with and benefit from a healthy visitor economy.
- Knowledge and understanding visitors needs ensures that marketing, planning and development are targeted most effectively.
Dudley was created as a metropolitan borough council in 1975. It is situated at the heart of the Black Country and is not a traditional visitor destination. The borough does contain, however, a number of significant industrial heritage features and some significant attractions.
It has a population of 305,000 and was judged, in 2008, to be a four star local authority.
In 2008 it received four million day and 300,000 overnight visitors. Their estimated expenditure was considered to be worth £223 million to the local economy. They have supported 4,810 jobs directly and further 1,321 indirectly (Cambridge model).
There has been a decline in the traditional manufacturing industry in the area, particularly over the last few years. This has added a greater stimulus to the search for alternative and replacement forms of employment.
Who is involved?
The Heritage Culture and Leisure Partnership has become the main focus for promoting tourism within the borough. Its membership includes representatives from key attractions and:
- the Black Country Society
- local NHS organisations including Dudley Primary Care Trust (PCT)
- local colleges
- the National Youth Theatre – Dudley is the only place in England outside of London to host the NYT
- Parks Friends groups
- Sports partnerships
- Dudley Council for Voluntary Services
- Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) Dudley
- Westfield – owners of the shopping centre
- regeneration partnerships
- Dudley Arts Council.
Sub-regionally, the new Visit the Black Country partnership will offer a more strategic, targeted approach to marketing and project development. The private sector has provided much of the stimulus for the establishment of this organisation.
It is expected to have a broader focus than the previous European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)-funded Destination Management partnership (DMP).
Dudley is the lead authority for the new partnership which includes Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Currently only Dudley and Wolverhampton have staff working in and responsible for tourism.
One of the most significant problems for the Black Country is to overcome the negative perception of the area held by local people. To a large extent this has been conditioned by the deteriorating state of the local economy and a history of industrial domination.
Steps are being taken to dispel negative perceptions by increasing awareness of the range and quality of local attractions. In addition, getting local people involved as tourists, through resident open days and local events, will help.
Much of the changing emphasis for tourism has been driven by individuals in and outside the local authority. The tourism development officer has ensured that the visitor economy has been recognised and understood as an integral part of the area's economy. Support has been given by the cabinet member for culture and leisure. Private-sector partners have also been essential champions.
The problems and how we tackled them
Dudley has a clear vision for the destination, closely linked to the wider regeneration-led vision for the Black Country. It envisages that by 2033 tourism will be a primary sector of the area's economy.
The Regional Spatial strategy also recognises the new role that Dudley town centre will have. With its unique tourism and cultural assets, it will determine its shape in the future.
The new local development framework (LDF) Joint Core Strategy for the Black Country has a specific policy for tourism. It will augment the existing Unitary Development Plan for the borough, which is still in force.
The council's corporate plan includes six key themes:
- Caring matters
- Environment matters
- Learning matters
- Regeneration matters
- Safety matters
- Quality service matters.
Priority 1 of ‘Regeneration matters' is to ‘Create a prosperous borough' for which Outcome 3 is ‘Promoting the visitor economy'.
In 2007, a Heritage, Culture and Leisure partnership was established as a working group in the broader local strategic partnership (LSP). Good representation from the private sector this has helped give a clear focus to tourism-related issues.
The partnership is taking the lead on the new Cultural strategy for the borough. Tourism is expected to have a more strategic focus within it and a strong influence on determining priorities for action.
Creating the Heritage, Culture and Leisure partnership reflects one of the key themes of the Community strategy, ‘Celebrating our local heritage'
The profile of heritage and tourism prompted the council's decision to bid for heritage lottery money for a major tourism project. This will be based on areas of international geological significance. The stage 1 bid has been accepted and stage 2 should be determined in December 2009.
Success is being measured through a comprehensive programme of data collection. This includes satisfaction surveys, economic impact assessments and through involvement with Destination Performance:UK (DP:UK).
Outcomes and impact
Surveys show that between 2002 and 2008, visitor numbers to all the borough's attractions grew by around 23 per cent.
Many of the attractions have a strong education focus and this has resulted in the family market being the strongest. A majority of visitors come from within one-and-a-half hours' travelling time. However, the unique and specialist nature of some of the attractions, means a number come from a much further afield.
The main attractions are:
- the Black Country Living Museum
- Dudley Zoological Gardens
- Dudley Canal Tunnel
- the limestone mines
- all of which make up the attractions of Castle Hill.
Together these currently attract around 500,000 visitors. The Black Country Canal network has historic associations with glass-making. Red House Glass Cone and Broadfield House Glass Museum are the only UK museums dedicated to glass. They are also important components of the tourism product. There is also an aspiration for the Black Country canal network to become an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Business activity in the area is the main driver for the provision of accommodation, with a relatively weak overnight leisure market. However, accommodation is used to cater for overspill demand from the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) Birmingham. During the biennial International Festival of Glass, all the borough's accommodation is full.
Market segmentation has been undertaken at regional level. It is being used to ensure that marketing activity is now more focused at a sub-regional level.
Tourism is currently part of the Culture and Leisure division of the Directorate of the Urban Environment. This is one of four directorates which manage services in the borough.
Tourism has only been recognised as distinct service area for the last nine years. Over that period it has grown in relevance, recognition and significance. In 2000 there was no tourism officer and no budget. Now there are two officers with a reasonable working budget and a number of effective working partnerships.
The visitor economy is now an integral and key part of sub-regional plans and corporate and community strategies. It is expected to play a major part in realising the 2033 vision for the sub-region.
Genuine partnership working has helped establish new working arrangements for the delivery of tourism services. In addition, there is now a visitor specific website.
The visitor economy is now positioned within the key strands of corporate and partnership. Its activity has helped it to be seen as an important contributor to the area's potential economic revival.
Related links: where to find out more
Red House Glass Cone – on the Dudley Council website
Broadfield House Glass Museum – on the Dudley Council website
21 September 2015