Tourism on the rise in Saffron Walden
AS the country wrestles with the enormity of austerity measures and cutbacks, one industry is going from strength to strength in Saffron Walden.
Tourism impacts on the lives of millions, not to mention the economy. According to leading tourism strategist Ken Robinson, Fellow of the Tourism Society, who addressed a recent tourism conference at the Sanger Institute, for every �15 spent by government on promoting tourism, some �45 is immediately recouped in airport passenger duty, �120 comes back into the system in the form of VAT, and, on average, some �500 is ploughed back into local economies.
And its importance is not lost on Saffron Walden.
Last Thursday, an enthusiastic team from the town’s award-winning tourist information centre attended the most prestigious travel trade event in the county – the annual Tourism and Leisure Show.
Held in the plush surroundings of Five Lakes Hotel and Country Club in Maldon, the show, which is run by the Visit Essex partnership, brings together all sections of the industry with the aim of giving thousands of group tour operators, as well as representatives of a wide range of clubs and societies researching for their annual programme of outings, the opportunity to find out just what our county has to offer.
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Armed with a mountain of promotional material, the Saffron Walden TIC team “went to fish where the fish are” to keep the town firmly on the map.
Among them was duty manager Rachel Thomas who, talking to the Reporter this week, described the show as an essential annual opportunity to contribute to the town’s continuing prosperity.
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“We’re aware that it comes as a surprise to many people just how valuable tourism is to their local economy,” she explains.
“A tourist is officially defined as someone who is away from home, visiting another place for any reason at all, and for however long, whether it be a holiday, staying with friends or family, business, researching with a view to relocation – even just passing through to fill up with petrol.
“All these people will contribute to the local economy while they are here. The Tourism and Leisure Show is an ideal chance to convey all that Saffron Walden has to offer, both in terms of its individual attractions, such as Bridge End Garden, the museum, Audley End House and the award-winning Minet Skatepark, to mention but a few.
“Visitors to our stand at the show wanted to know about ‘the other’ Essex, the rural Essex with stunning architecture and open spaces, cosy caf�s and family-friendly attractions. Some had very specific enquiries, including a couple who had stopped coming to the town when Eaden Lilley closed and were delighted to learn that the shop was now occupied by Westgate.”
But proof of the town’s attractiveness is perhaps best defined by the increasing activity at the TIC itself. The town council-run facility is outstripping other market towns of similar stature by as much as half in terms of the numbers of customers through the door.
And it shows no sign of flagging, despite the national economic insecurity. In January 2010, for example, just over 5,000 people paid a visit to the Market Square office. This year, that figure topped 6,600.
In the meantime, the TIC’s website experienced over 2000 visits from 42 countries. The TIC also shows its commitment to the town by referring on average some 2000 customers per year to local independent businesses.
“We are busier than we have ever been,” explains Rachel. “We don’t even see any of the seasonal troughs that we used to. Of course, there is hardly time to breathe in June, July and August, but we now are steadily busy even in traditionally out-of-season times.
“This is down to a number of factors. My colleague Judith Thompson dedicates a lot of time to promoting the TIC online through Twitter and Facebook, for example, which is proving hugely successful, with new followers almost every day. There is also the ‘staycation’ habit that is emerging, with people choosing to stay in the UK rather than going abroad for their holidays.”
For more information, contact:
• Tel: 01799 524002
• Web: visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk
• Facebook: facebook.com/saffronwalden
• Twitter: twitter.com/swtic
• You can also leave reviews of the town on the Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre ‘place page’ on Google.