DAVAA’s Belfast Learning Journey

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Dundee Tourism Learning Journey 2018/19 (Belfast)

Dundee. A city still preparing itself for change

On the 16th of October at our DAVAA committee meeting, a discussion began around the continuing need for the private and public sector to work together to maximise the opportunity presented by the newly opened V&A Dundee. With our membership saying they’ve seen relatively little conversion from the V&A Dundee’s huge influx of visitors into additional bookings, could serve as an early warning sign that more work needs to be done together to holistically develop our destination. Whilst existing initiatives like VisitDundee and DTAG have potential to help, none will be truly effective unless the public and private sectors are unified in vision and have a system in place that will allow us all to be proactive in making things happen.

Following that DAVAA meeting, a decision was taken by the Committee to look at constructive ways of bringing both sectors together to build stronger relationships. We would look to help broker discussions with other key businesses and groups who operated within the city’s leisure and tourism market, notably the cultural attractions, tour operators, the Council, VisitScotland, retail operators and transport providers.

Working on the ground allows our members to interact daily with overnight guests coming into Dundee specifically to visit V&A Dundee. During the first few weeks of conversations it quickly became apparent that one slight problem existed; many of these visitors simply didn’t know what else the city had to offer. Those who expected to spend a good chunk of their day at V&A Dundee walked out of its doors looking to move on to the next experience. If we go by room occupancy levels,  that next experience might not have been in the city. Yet visitor numbers for the other local attractions increased across the board, especially RRS Discovery. So, at what point along our the customer journey was information about our destination reaching them or in this case, not?

The marketing reach of the city and V&A Dundee got to places we previously could only have dreamed of. Umpteen international media, newspapers, magazines, list, etc all paid homage to Dundee and promoted it as either 2018 or 2019’s must visit destination. So, the message and the information got out there and the response to the marketing could be seen in queues along the waterfront. In could also be seen at the visitor attractions and on the seats of the trains and buses heading into the city.

Our members have also spoken to guests and  tourism industry professionals who don’t see Dundee as a weekend destination. Why not? We’ve got the attractions to fill any visitors time for at least two or three days. We’re ridiculously well situated geographically to provide a base from which to explore and the accommodation sector had plenty rooms at affordable prices.

The information may be reaching the audience, but is the audience really paying attention? Maybe the audience only hears ‘Come to Dundee’. So they come. But when they arrive they are expecting a fully formed visitor experience from the outset. After all, who wants to work hard to enjoy themselves?

The tourism sector in the city needs to make sure a visit to Dundee is one that surpasses a visitors expectations or at the very least matches them. To do this there needs to be a better plan to develop the offer both online and physically on the ground. We should have a city that is grabbing the opportunity that V&A Dundee has presented but we don’t. Is it partly because the structure that allows us all to work together may not be in place?

A partnership of equals

Leadership is key and for many years that leadership to drive and push development in the leisure market has come from Dundee City Council. They were invested in the growth of tourism and what it could bring to the city. That position was in some ways foisted upon them as no one else offered to lead the way.  But times are changing and businesses are becoming more aware of the important collaborative role they need to play in order to help create the ideal environment for tourism to flourish. As awareness grows, criticism follows. But it’s criticism that comes from the healthy debate that arises when people realise there is a choice on offer to what has come before. An example of this would be the TayCountry campaign.

The decision was made at a civic level to invest in marketing Dundee as part of the wider region of  Tay Country in an initiative along with Angus, Fife and Perthshire.  The private sector involvement was minimal. Businesses may have been consulted or informed at various stages throughout the development of the campaign but the dissemination of that information and the decision of which markets the campaign would target would ultimately be influenced by external marketing consultants and decided by the local authorities. For tourism businesses emerging from their previous apathy any consultation with us seemed more like a token gesture. Regardless the outcome of the actual campaign, it showed that the private sector were not happy with this particular way to ‘collaborate’.

As the Tay Cities deal enters its ‘consultation’ phase and the first Tay Cities Regional Tourism Conference  replaces the Dundee and Angus one (we never got asked our opinion on that one!) will the views of the tourism businesses on the ground really have a say? Is the structure in place for our voices to make a difference on a regional level?  It needs to be if we’re going to develop our destination.

In Dundee, the continued development of the waterfront also needs industry to influence and shape what comes next. We do not want every future site to potentially house another hotel, do we? As we seek to  become more involved in decision making the concept of ‘place making’ and the promotion thereof needs to be pushed on from the ground level through our businesses thus increasing the awareness of the positive impact that growing the ‘Visitor Economy’ can have for the wider community. Tourism isn’t just about hotels and attractions. It affects the residents throughout the area and can be a real force to improve the living conditions within the city for all.

There needs to be a joined-up approach in local tourism starting with the promotion through to the development and ultimately to the delivery. This can only happen if the private sector are allowed to contribute more than just the offer of a product. We want to use the passion and pride our Dundee-based businesses have to create better, more proactive destination management which will allow Dundee to become a more compelling short break destination. At DAVAA, we believe that we need to explore the development of an inclusive, yet structured body (DTAG +?) that will take the city to that next stage for all those wanting to create a higher quality destination experience.

 

DAVAA; supporting positive change through action

DAVAA was represented on the Liverpool Learning journey in October 2017. Funded by Scottish Enterprise, it was aimed at gathering information on what Liverpool did to embrace their opportunity as the European Capital of Culture in 2008 and what learnings could be used if Dundee attained the same honour in 2023.  But as Dundee, through no fault of its own, became no longer eligible for the 2023 title due to Brexit, funding  stopped and the project was not seen through to the end. Although our experiences on the trip showed it as a great way to bring people together for a common goal.

So as a constructive exercise we proposed a learning journey to Belfast. We would invite a cross section of the ‘leisure market’ operators in the city to come together for the shared experience of looking at another city that has had to deal with comparable issues. A city who are slightly further along with their tourism development.  With key influencers, decision makers, stakeholders and ambassadors from Dundee we can work together and help bring the whole of the city together with a shared vision and possible action plan of where we want Dundee’s leisure tourism trade to be in the very near future.

We approached Scottish Enterprise in November to ask if they would be willing to offer some support for our project. With some negotiation they agreed and we set about defining our objectives for what we hoped to achieve from this initiative.

Our Key Objectives

  1. To see how the public and private sector worked together on the holistic develop of Belfast as a destination.
  2. To learn how Belfast developed new and authentic products and services to enhance the visitors experience and increase overnight stays.
  3. To learn from Belfast and identify a central body/organisation who will lead on the destination strategy and implement initiatives.
  4. To create new business links between Belfast and Dundee.

Potential Outcome for Dundee

  1. Formalise a network of fully engaged businesses who will help define a destination management strategy for the city.
  2. Forge new and better relationships with key public and private stakeholders so there is a more coherent collaboration of organisations which will make Dundee a ‘must-visit’ and ‘must stay’ destination, in alignment with the tourism strategy.
  3. Identify a collective mechanism/vehicle to lead and deliver on the destination strategy.
  4. The creation and development of a holistic product packages for the city
  5. Clarity over roles and responsibilities amongst the tourism sector to reduce duplication of effort and sub-optimal use of resources.

 

All ready to go

Our delegation heads to Belfast on the 4th of February for two very full days of meetings, tours and hopefully; healthy and open discussions from which we can identify key learnings and can be turned into proposals for actions we can take to help make Dundee much more than just a ‘one night stay’ destination.