Twenty five years after it was first formed, Visit York, formerly known as the York Visitor and Conference Bureau, kicked off celebrations for its Silver Jubilee year last night (24 July) at a special anniversary dinner held at the Mount Royale Hotel, York.
Since launching in 1987, when it was first chaired by the late Donald Shepherd and had Paul Wells as its Chief Executive, the agency has championed and supported the city’s accommodation and hospitality providers, retailers and visitor attractions, ensuring York’s reputation as a first class visitor destination has reached far and wide across the globe.
The organisation has helped boost annual visitor numbers to the city from 2.1mn visitors in 1987 to seven million today and it has worked to increase the value of tourism to the local economy from £55 million to a record breaking £443 million. This booming tourism industry has also helped create more jobs in the sector from an estimated 5,000 in the mid-eighties to 23,000 today.
Key attendees at the 25th birthday included Patrick Shepherd, representing his father Donald (the first Chairman), Stuart Oxtoby owner of the Mount Royale Hotel, representing his father Richard (a founding Director), Michael Sinclair (founding Deputy Chairman), former Chairpersons John Gallery and Denise Howard OBE and Visit York’s current Tourism Ambassador Ian Reed. The Right Honourable Lord Mayor Keith Hyman and Lady Mayoress Karen Hyman, as well as current Visit York directors and directors from 1987, also joined in the celebrations.
Patrick Shepherd exclaimed ‘My father, Donald, was passionate about York. He had a long involvement in its affairs having been a councillor in the 60s. He also believed that York had enormous promise as a major tourist city, hence with others he was instrumental in setting up the Visitor & Conference Bureau and here we are celebrating its successes 25 years later.’
At the gathering, Gillian Cruddas MBE, who has been Chief Executive at Visit York for 17 years, was presented with a framed print from the city’s hoteliers to honour the hard work and commitment of the tourism agency over the years.
Speaking about Visit York and the Bureau’s success, Lionel Chatard, Chair of the York Hoteliers Association, commented: ‘Gillian and her team have done a truly amazing job of promoting York and all its world-class attractions over the years. From its beginnings at the York Visitor and Conference Bureau to its present standing as Visit York, the agency has worked tirelessly to promote everything that is great about our city and for that, we are all incredibly grateful.’
In 2008, the York Visitor and Conference Bureau became Visit York and in 2010 it moved from George Hudson Street to Museum Street where it now shares premises with the city’s state-of-the-art Visitor Information Centre. After Donald Shepherd stepped down as chairman Richard Oxtoby took over and was later succeeded by John Gallery, Denise Howard, Andrew Scott and John Yeomans. Gillian Cruddas, who was awarded an MBE in 2010 for her services to tourism, has been Chief Executive since 1995 and has been instrumental in the agency’s most recent milestones.
York’s transformation into a cosmopolitan city was heralded by the introduction of footstreets and pavement cafes along with a Park and Ride scheme in the late eighties and early nineties. The re-launch of the Bar Convent in 1996, the opening of the City Screen Picturehouse in 2000, the addition of the Yorkshire Wheel in 2006 and 2011 and a brand new five star hotel, the Cedar Court Grand, have all contributed to York becoming a cultural hotspot in the north of England. World class attractions such as Jorvik, York Castle Museum, the National Railway Museum and York Minster continually offer visitors new reasons to come back. Other key highlights include the transformation of the city’s events programme which now features regular favourites such as Illuminating York, the York Food & Drink Festival and the Jorvik Viking Festival, and for this year the York 800 celebrations.
Catering for this increase in visitor numbers has gone hand-in-hand with an investment of over £300 million in accommodation and attractions across the city over the last 25 years.
Hotels which have played a key role in this increase include the Novotel, which opened in 1987, along with the top-rated Hotel du Vin, opening in 2007, and the city’s first five star hotel, the Cedar Court Grand, which opened its doors in 2010 – all of which have contributed to the rise in serviced bedspaces in the city from 5,800 in 1987 to 11,122 today (bed spaces have almost doubled in 25 years).
With the support of City of York Council, Visit York has ramped up its communications programme to reach businesses and tourists from Newbury to New York. Its first website with the URL york-tourism.co.uk, (which has now evolved to www.visityork.org), which launched in 1998, and the installation of brown tourism signs on the A1 in 1999, both helped to guide visitors to the city’s main hub. Out of town retail sites such as Monks Cross, which opened in 1992, and York’s Designer Outlet, launching in 1998, also helped to drive visitors to the city’s outlying areas.
The city’s famous racecourse underwent major refurbishments in 1996 and 2004 with Royal Ascot being held there in 2005 helping to give the city even greater standing. The re-dedication of York Minster after the 1984 fire in 1988; the launch of the Barbican Centre in 1990; the Royal York Conference Centre opening in 2000 and hosting ECOFIN (European Finance Ministers Conference) in 1998, have all helped to attract leisure and business visitors over this quarter century.
Today, with the Visit York Information Centre now attracting ten thousand visitors weekly, Visit York continues to celebrate all that is unique about the city.
A celebration event for everyone who works in tourism in and around York will be held at the Yorkshire Air Museum on Thursday 13 September, where 500 businesses are expected to attend. Anyone wishing to find out more about the birthday celebration event and working with Visit York.