Isle of Man Tourism Workshop – Dec 01 2017

An Eventbrite invitation landed the other day to attend an event at the Tynwald building in Douglas. I like these invites that tie in with your  phone calendar designing your day. It’s so difficult to forget stuff now.

The remit wasn’t wholly clear as the invite classed it as a ‘workshop’. It was interesting and fun to see a collection of tourism partners and representatives from the newly formed Department of Enterprise. Having time to connect with the officials is valued as it gives time to share a few ideas and updates. Generally, there is little opportunity to link up during the year and share the good work that has been going on. Meeting Richard Slee for the first time helped – he’s one of these Island characters who has a profile that pops up intermittently in the right places.

Chatting with other tourism partners before the main event is always valued. It reminds you of what we have on the Island and who is doing something new and you rarely hear any doom and gloom. Maybe that is indicative of the type of folk the industry attracts.  You may only see these people one or two times per year and a business opportunity can open up very quickly with a timely natter over a coffee.

Rob Callister MHK welcomed the group with an energy filled address and set out some of the details relating to recent changes in governance. Rob is always good to hear and from my previous life in local politics, I know that his sentiments are laid on righteous foundations. The seminar was opened by Mark Lewin who is the Chief Executive for the Department. I understand he has a background relating to hotel business and it does give a head start. (The warm and relaxed attitude when speaking helped the audience to ease into the afternoon.) The message appeared to be that the Manx tourism mantra needs a rewrite and the tourism operators/partners and service providers have to be part of it. Mr Lewin and his colleague Carl presented a positive view of tourism that our inbound numbers are rising. Factors such as the currency value of the pound, security issues and better marketing has all contributed to the rise. A key target area for visitors is the retired market in the North West of England. That kind of ‘grey market’ is a little worrying when thinking about opportunities in 5 or 10 years time. I’d want to be gearing our visitor economy for younger people now – make the place exciting.

The group sat through an obligatory Powerpoint display and some graphics pointed to the new department structure and other bits and bobs. (I found myself drawn to some of the swish icon graphics on a pie chart.)  The group was then split into 3 and sat around separate tables to map out ideas for the future. At this point you wonder about who is actually at the seminar and my group had a hotel group director, travel group owner, Wildlife Park manager and some self catering accommodation providers. It was totally random selection but I felt that the cohort had a good mix. Sitting with Brian Kelly and Brett Martin is always interesting for pointers about the business climate around the tourism sector. (Ironically, Thomas Cook featured on the radio news minutes before I arrived – slashing 50 UK stores and sending the message that online booking is the direction of travel.)

Expanding the season into the winter months was a topic and an obvious challenge with our weather. Creation of new events are a good option here and my personal experience of handling 100’s of visitors this year for non golf tours tells me that food and drink/agr tours are promising. Spice them up with some spontaneity, quirky pit stops and fun places to see and it wins. Trudging around a tired and grey heritage exhibit doesn’t do it for me.

We had the opportunity to chip in a few ideas and here are some suggestions I threw in. (It was one of those sessions where there was 10 minutes per theme and our department host posted the ideas on flip boards)

  • I like the thought of a bit of rebranding for the Department and with the restructure, now is a good time. Perhaps a charismatic credible individual who is has the ability to communicate well could be the face of  Island tourism? Or maybe a collective? Somebody like John McGuinness has a massive respected following. He is a family guy and knows the Island inside out. Perhaps he would be willing to promote the Island even more than he does now on a more formal footing. The same could be said of Johnny Rea, Mark Cavendish, Samantha Barks and so on. Perhaps a TV celebrity who has a fondness for the Island? There would be costs involved but don’t we spend money on marketing anyway? A magnetic, captivating and interesting shop front for the rock is vital. Something that links in with the motorsport, dramatic scenery and dare I mention it, VIKINGS is a good step. (We have the most exciting Viking heritage and the appeal is vibrant. There are ship burials, battlegrounds, village sites and yet the Viking identity is virtually anonymous here. A spot of ‘Disneyfication’ would win.)
  • Isle of Man Tourism would benefit from a media channel. Short videos with lively and amusing content. This would be self perpetuating and squeezed into a Youtube channel. It would be a simple as Jo Pack’s Sports Package where spontaneous interviews and footage from tourism providers injects fresh content into the Island offering. The is low cost and just requires time, energy and drive.
  • The ‘build it and they will come’ stance sits well with me. The gravity sports element works well in North Wales attracting visitors and a similar operation here could be fabulous. We have the railway going up Snaefell, why not have MTB track options into the different valleys or even a luge experience?
  • Naturally, my thoughts on the department’s choice a few years ago not to promote golf was a huge error in my opinion. It was useful to add to the mix that we have 8 golf courses to utilise and bring the best spending tourists the Island could ever attract in great volume. Thus creating/saving jobs and injecting vast amounts of cash into the food, drink and hotel sector. With over 2000 golfers brought to the Island since 2011, I know that over £1m revenue has been brought to the Island and spent in places that need it. I can’t understand the focus on tourism groups who bring their own apples and stare at a glass of tonic water all night.
  • On that note, there was no obvious representation from the cycling sector. The Island is going cycle crazy and this is on roads that are generally unsafe for pedal pushers. A serious cycle strategy to turn every country footpath into a cycleway, remove all stiles and unfriendly gates and give the visitor an option to avoid the tarmac at most times. It appears simple, yet not on the Government radar. The potential to have a cycle path around the coastline is possible to achieve. The challenge to do it would be irresistible to many tourists. Add a cycleway alongside the railway lines wherever possible and you have a 3/4 day holiday to relish.

All in all, the vibe was good and hopefully, it will be maintained. There was no sign of the key transport providers  and as elephants sit in any room, it’s a big one. The cost of travel and logistic issues are the major component part of the visitor economy. You just hope that this is being addressed behind the scenes.

Looking forward to the outcomes of the afternoon. There were copious amounts of energy and ideas on tap which is always refreshing.

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