The Chairman invited the Lead Councillor for Environment to comment on the report submitted to the Committee.
The Lead Councillor for Environment introduced the item. The Strategy and Communications Manager drew the Committee’s attention to the priorities and activities of the Visitor Strategy 2014-20 as summarised in the report submitted to the Committee. In addition, he advised the meeting of actions taken since the end of the Strategy in 2020, including administering grants schemes to help the visitor sector during the pandemic.
A number of points were covered and questions asked in the ensuing discussion:
· In reply to questioning about the need for a destination marketing strategy and the approach possible with limited Council resources, the Lead Councillor for the Environment stated the importance of collaboration with partners such as the University of Surrey and Visit Surrey. The Lead Councillor for Environment indicated that single-centre stays were rare for Guildford’s visitors. The Strategic Services Director advised that the University of Surrey, Visit Surrey, Surrey Hills Enterprises, and Experience Guildford were keen to collaborate with the Council. She indicated that the visitor economy would be important as part of the Council’s new economic development strategy.
· A member of the Committee asked for the terms of reference and scope of the new economic strategy and the role of Councillors in its development. In response, the Strategy and Communications Manager advised that the specification for development of the strategy was drafted in consultation with Lead Councillors and was out for tender. He outlined the requirements for councillor involvement required in the development of the strategy and undertook to circulate the tender specification to Committee members.
· In response to a question about resources, the Strategy and Communications Manager informed the Committee that the marketing function at the Council was centralised as part of the Future Guildford transformation programme and was now performed by the Council’s communications team.
· In reply to questions, the Strategic Services Director advised the meeting of arrangements for the Visit Guildford brand and webpages on the Visit Surrey website. In addition, she indicated that the traditional income streams for tourism information centres had declined as people increasingly used online alternatives to access or promote services. The Strategic Services Director confirmed that the Council was looking at tourism initiatives in other localities and was keen to collaborate with partners. The Strategy and Communications Manager reminded Committee members that the future of the Tourist Information Centre was considered and commented on by an Executive Advisory Board and would be considered next by the Executive. He indicated that the issue of whether a future tourism strategy could be self-funding might be an approach considered in the development of the economic strategy.
· A member of the Committee suggested the value in using elements of the 2014-20 Visitor Strategy and questioned the use of resources in any possible re-branding. In response, the Strategic Services Director indicated that a review of existing strategies would be one of the first roles of the consultant tasked with developing the economic strategy.
· In reply to a question about the scope and size of the Council’s communications team and the use of Guildford Tourist Information Centre to sell tickets, the Lead Councillor for Environment indicated the importance of the Visit Surrey website and the use of self-ticketing platforms such as Eventbrite. The Strategic Services Director indicated that there was not currently a demand for a function to sell tickets for events, although this might change as demand increased further after the pandemic. She advised that the Council’s communication teams were multi-functional, with none dedicated to tourism or the visitor economy.
· The meeting was advised that many of the priorities of the 2014-20 Visitor Strategy were delivered by approximately 2017.
· In reply to a question from a Committee member about growth areas beyond heritage for the visitor economy, the Lead Councillor for Environment referred to the video gaming industry.
· In reply to a question from a Committee member about digital marketing skills such as SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) within the Council’s communications team, the meeting was advised that digital content editors were currently part of the team.
The Chairman thanked the Lead Councillor for Environment and officers for attending and answering questions.