West Lindsey District Council (WLDC) undertook a review of their draft visitor economy strategy as part of the LGA’s Economic Growth Advisers Programme and commissioned a consultant to assist them in developing a fit for purpose strategy and action plan.
West Lindsey is not a natural tourism territory, and the area is overshadowed by better known neighbouring destinations, particularly the coast to the east and city of Lincoln to the west. However, the tourism sector is growing and is important to the district. In the process of the recovery from COVID-19, there is a real opportunity for West Lindsey to position itself as a safe, accessible destination with a strong focus on distinctiveness, sustainability, social wellbeing, health and outdoor based activities. The area is an attractive, peaceful rural area which combines an outstanding natural environment with historic villages in close proximity to the city of Lincoln. Within its administrative boundary lies part of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the market town of Gainsborough (with its impressive Old Hall) and a wide variety of historic villages and heritage buildings including many characteristic churches.
After the visitor economy strategy was initially drafted, resources had to be diverted in early 2020 to enable the delivery of the COVID-19 business grants and work on the strategy was not completed. Although the council’s Corporate Plan aspiration for the visitor economy remains, the national and regional policy environment as well as the sector itself has shifted significantly since the strategy was first drafted in 2019.
The key challenges for the council in updating the strategy are:
- Strategic Positioning - ensuring the strategy and action plan reflect the national policy agenda, LEP revival and Economic Growth Plan together with national policy around Levelling Up, Climate Change and Infrastructure in the post COVID-19 world.
- Performance measures – establishing clear SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) performance measurements that provide the best assessment of opportunity and achievement.
- Evidence base – strengthening the evidence base and improving the narrative.
- Broadening appeal – ensuring that the developing cultural offer links with the visitor economy strategy.
- Partnership – considering how best to instil partnership and collaboration for delivering growth.
- Action plan - consider resourcing, what is required and what are the funding opportunities.
- Branding strategy – ensuring the three brands of Discover Gainsborough, Love Lincolnshire Wolds and Visit Lincoln are best utilised to market and promote the district.
- Visit England / DMO – maximising the work of Visit England and, at a local level, aligning the strategy and action plan with the core activities of Destination Lincolnshire.
- Best practice – learning from other destinations with regards to areas of best practice.
Planning Solutions Consulting were commissioned to support WLDC in carrying out a review of their draft visitor economy strategy. The subsequent research and consultation exercise carried out with local stakeholders confirms that tourism matters to the district; it is a growing sector which makes an important contribution to West Lindsey’s overall economic growth (£143 million in 2019). The consultations were carried out through one-to-one discussions with WLDC officers and key partners including the county council, East Lindsey District Council, Lincolnshire Wolds AONB, Visit Lincoln and Greater Lincolnshire. Virtual workshops were else held online to discuss the action plan with key stakeholder groups such as tourism businesses including key attraction and accommodation representatives.
There was a strong consensus from these consultations to focus the strategy on a diverse portfolio comprising the district’s heritage offer, as well as niche market towns and village attractions and the environment and landscape. In particular, there was feedback on continuing to focus on lead brands/attractions such as Gainsborough Old Hall and its aviation heritage. Further recommendations which could form a core part of the tourism offer going forward include renowned heritage attractions nearby such as Lincoln Castle as well as established walking and cycling routes such as Wolds Walks and The Lindsey Trail. Complimenting this could also be a growing events and culture programme, such as the Lincolnshire Showground.
The findings from the research were compiled in a draft report which included an action plan with a suite of detailed interventions and initiatives which respond to the vision to create a community-led destination that develops, refines and presents an authentic responsible tourism product with a focus on sustainability and community benefits.
The findings from the research have also been incorporated into the draft visitor economy strategy. The next stage will be to present the draft visitor economy strategy and action plan to the committee for endorsement in spring 2022. Any further feedback will be incorporated into a final report with practical recommendations for the Economic Growth Team to take ownership of and then use for delivery in its service to the West Lindsey tourist economy.
The action plan and strategy will be kept under review and will continue to be updated as the funding landscape and market conditions change.
The full impact of the action plan and interventions will be better understood once they are carried out. These will be measured through a monitoring framework comprised of baseline data and targets for the period 2022-2025, which will capture key visitor economy metrics:
- Number of businesses and employees in the sector (STEAM)
- Number of visitors to West Lindsey (STEAM)
- Number of overnight stay (STEAM)
- Increased spend into the district economy (STEAM)
- Better awareness of West Lindsey as a visitor destination
- More tourism businesses investing in product development.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The action plan and strategy will be incorporated into the business planning and the Corporate Plan at West Lindsey District Council. The Leisure, Culture, Events and Tourism Members Subgroup will oversee the implementation of the action plan. The strategy will also be utilized by a range of partners and stakeholders including local businesses/sectors, business networks, educators, skills service providers, tourism organisations, Visit Lincoln DMO and neighbouring local authorities.
The Visitor Economy Plan is underpinned by key principles and objectives, which remain vital to the success of the district:
- Visitors must have a positive rewarding experience; they will want to share with others
- Residents must benefit from the Visitor Economy
- The district’s environment must be protected
- The visitor economy must be continuously developed.
Key lessons from the research include:
- The importance of continuing engagement with key stakeholders, partners, and the private sector during the action plan phase
- Building in flexibility to respond to opportunities and external influences as and when they arise
- The need for additional resources (internal and external) to support delivery of the action plan.