Harrogate: Talking Tourism

Having finished his term as Mayor of the Borough, Mike Newby’s next challenge focuses of tourism in Harrogate. We find out more…

From knitting mini cycling jerseys to abseiling down the side of Harrogate International Centre, Mike Newby’s year as Mayor of the Borough was nothing if not varied.

When his term came to an end in June 2014 and he decided to step down as councillor – a role he had held for many years – a new position came up that seemed like such a natural fit, it might have been designed for him. For life-long Harrogate resident Mike, the role of director of Visit Harrogate, the district’s recently formed tourism organisation, was ideal.

“Having spent a year promoting the district as Mayor, I was almost serving an apprenticeship to taking on this role and promoting the district on a more permanent basis,” he said. “It’s my own home area, I was born and bred here, I know the people here and I like to think I know how it works.”

Established in July 2013, Visit Harrogate was growing steadily when Mike joined almost a year later. Its website was up and running and its first visitor guide for the Harrogate district had been published.

“I know the people here and I like to think I know how it works.”

“It was bedding down and it has just been a question of building on that success,” said Mike. “Our website has even more hits now and it’s becoming established as the go-to website for where to stay and what to do.

“We’re working hard to make sure we’re covering the whole district. More and more folk are coming on to the site now, which is a great sign.”

Naturally, last summer’s Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire provided a very welcome boost to local tourism. As well as bringing thousands of people into Harrogate over the two days of cycling, it had a noticeable effect on the number of hits on the Visit Harrogate website in the following weeks and months.

In fact, tourism in Harrogate, and the surrounding area, is still feeling the positive effect of the international attention it received last summer.

“The weather over that weekend was perfect, it showed all our assets to best advantage,” said Mike. “Because of the sustained interest, we have still got bike pages on the website – and we have Harrogate’s Big Bike Bash coming up in June.”

That cycling festival on June 20 and 21 is a direct result of the success of the Tour de France. As well as cycling activities and races, it will feature an event village on the Stray with food, drink and entertainment.

It aims to recreate the positive feeling of that memorable weekend, but with one key difference: it will be much easier for local businesses to get involved than it was in the Tour de France, where organisers gave preference to their major sponsors.

Of course, while Visit Harrogate’s website will be kept up to date with the latest news in the run-up to the Big Bike Bash, Mike and the rest of the team are already thinking much further ahead.

“We are looking at promoting sustainable holidays, following on from the growing interest in cycling, with green ways of going on holiday in the district and what we can offer that is environmentally friendly,” said Mike.

“As ever, when we get to school holidays, we will be emphasising family things to do. There’s so much going on throughout the district – it’s just a case of getting all that information together to help people find out about it.

“We are already thinking about the possibility of a Christmas events guide, then we’ll start looking at the 2016 visitor guide. You seem to just wish the year away doing this job!”

If you are looking for food and drink in Harrogate then don’t forget to check out the new The Fuddle website at thefuddle.co.uk.