England’s World Heritage Story: The North11 April 2019
It’s been a rollercoaster seven months since September 2018. Tasked with creating a series of bookable itineraries focused on the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Northern England targeting markets in the United States and Ireland, it was quite a challenge knowing just where to begin. Especially as tourism itineraries can be notoriously slow to develop, and the travel trade - which will only ever consider adding new itineraries to their product if they are popular and cost-effective – can be even slower in even considering new additions.
And the clock was ticking: all Destination England Fund (DEF) projects had a fixed deadline of March 31, 2019 to deliver on all activity, which meant that we had no time to waste.
The good news is that we have delivered what we believe are five excellent itineraries focused on the world heritage sites. These new itineraries are carried by Mountain Goat, an experienced operator with a long history of working in the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall. These itineraries run the gamut from single-day tours to three-day comprehensive tours of the Lake District; four-day tours of the Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall; a four-day tour that includes Durham Castle & Cathedral, Hadrian’s Wall and Fountains Abbey; and a five-day spectacular that includes all six World Heritage sites.
The target market is the ‘mature experience seeker,’ generally the over-50, empty nester holidaymaker who has more time and disposable income; who is keen on deepening their knowledge of history and heritage of the destinations they visit; and who is usually on a repeat visit to England: they’ve seen the main sights but now they want more.
Our itineraries are designed with that traveller in mind: there’s plenty of culture and very little in terms of strenuous activity. It’s about knowledgeable guided tours and comfortable transfers; characterful, quality accommodation and good food, preferably local dishes that give a flavour of the region they’re visiting.
As these itineraries were coming together, we commissioned Imagen, a Yorkshire-based video and photography company, to get some high-quality imagery and video of the six world heritage sites and their surrounding hinterlands. It took a bit of time – they had to negotiate the often impossible task of working through a northern winter, with its inclement weather and limited light – but they got the job done. All of this imagery will be available to all the world heritage sites and all businesses associated with them.
In order to give the project a distinct identity, we commissioned The Way, a Bristol-based design company, to come up with a brand and look for the project. The challenge was simple: how do you combine six disparate world heritage sites into one brand, while respecting their individual identities but also emphasising their inherent ‘northern-ness’? For The Way, the answer was pretty straightforward: it was about telling the ‘deep’ story of northern England and its remarkable accomplishments. And so they came up with England’s World Heritage Story: The North. This is one of the greatest stories ever told, a tale of mighty emperors, ancient mystics, poetic dreamers and four lads from Liverpool that changed the world. A story like no other, from our fireside to yours. Who wouldn’t want to hear this particular tale?
With the new itineraries in hand we travelled to the United States where we spent a week meeting with tour operators and consolidators interested in adding our product to theirs. These things take time, but I’m happy to report that we found a real interest in what we had created and I have no doubt that the coming months will see at least one or two of these US operators pick up some – or all – of these itineraries. We also attended Holiday World in Dublin, the country’s largest consumer-facing travel show, where we were the only English representative in the whole show. There was an extremely positive reaction on the part of Irish holidaymakers to northern England and its fabulous collection of world heritage sites.
Our final piece of work is a business engagement toolkit – basically a guide that each of the six world heritage sites can use to help their local businesses make better use of their association with a site of global cultural significance. These toolkits are currently being finalised and will be available for distribution in the next few weeks.
The project delivered all of its assets and activity lines on March 31. Part of the project goal was to establish a legacy, and part of that legacy is in the title: this is England’s World Heritage Story: The North, but we’d like to see a story for the south, the east and the west at some point in the future. Another part of the legacy is in the website, englandsworldheritagestory.com, which has all of the information related to the project as well as links to all of the photography and video assets. Please check it out for more.
Finally, it is absolutely vital that I acknowledge the invaluable help of everyone who worked with me to make this project bear fruit. Not just the team at Cumbria Tourism, who were incredible, but also all of the world heritage coordinators and everyone associated with the individual sites. All of the associated tourism organisations were instrumental, and even managed to fight off the onset of ‘DEF fatigue’ – a weariness that comes after three years of being involved in DEF projects – to help the project along.