‘Service and skills’ key to boosting Lancashire tourism

Providing better customer experiences is the best way for Lancashire to boost visitor numbers, according to a group of the county’s leading tourism thinkers.

Speaking at the annual Lancashire Leisure and Tourism Roundtable, organised by accountancy and business advisory firm Moore and Smalley, sector bosses said that improving the skills and knowledge of those working in the sector was key to improving customer service.

They believe the county also has to show its tourism offering is about more than just the seaside and that tapping into growing markets like cycling could also bring more people to the county, in a similar way to how the Tour de France has boosted Yorkshire.

Speaking at the event, Jane Kelly, marketing and business development manager at Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool, said: “Customer service is at the heart of the tourism industry. We have introduced ‘World Host’, a training scheme to improve guest services which came over from Canada following the Olympic Games. It is the best customer service course we’ve ever run. A quarter of our trade is repeat business that we attribute purely to good customer service.”

Claire Smith, president of StayBlackpool, said: “We sometimes struggle with staff having a lack of skills. The qualifications some of them have mean very little, they just don’t know what we need them to know. Maths and English skills of staff are poor and some can’t respond to an e-mail enquiry properly. We’re training them and this gives them confidence but more has to be done.”

The event heard how Marketing Lancashire, the county’s destination marketing organisation, is working together with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership which has made tourism a priority sector for the county.

Anna Izza, of Marketing Lancashire, said: “Many overseas visitors coming to England stick to London and the south. The new Northern Futures fund aims to bring more visitors in through the northern gateways like Manchester Airport or the port of Hull and to encourage them to stay in the north. Canada, northern Europe and the US are potentially lucrative markets and we need to ensure we pull together itineraries with ‘standout’ that appeal to their specific tastes and meet their individual needs.”

Anna added: “People think they have to go to the Lakes for the dramatic scenery and stunning countryside, but Lancashire has this too. We also need to tap into growth opportunities like the cycling market which is increasingly popular and pull together as a county to highlight our attractive offer for all kinds of cyclists. At Marketing Lancashire we’ve certainly helped arrange more visits by international journalists in the last few years. There is interest in Lancashire - it has taken a while but we’re now starting to see things move and we’ll be working hard to ensure that Lancashire benefits from the visits enabled by Northern Futures.”

Other issues discussed at the event included funding for investment and upgrades, cutting through red tape, and how the county’s accommodation providers can improve their IT and online marketing skills.

Daniel Rich, manager of Barton Grange Hotel, said: “Over 90 per of hotel goers start with a website. If your site is poor you won’t get the business. Sites need to be mobile compatible to be found on Google. The internet is changing all the time and independent businesses need more help with marketing.”

Claire Smith, president of StayBlackpool, added: “A good hotelier that is unable to get their message out is not able to fill rooms.”

The annual Lancashire Leisure and Tourism Roundtable, now in its fourth year, brings together regional tourism bodies, hotel and hospitality operators, and professional advisers to gauge the health of the sector and what the future holds for the industry.

Judith Dugdale, head of the leisure and tourism team at Moore and Smalley, said: “This was another opportunity for some of the region’s leading leisure and tourism businesses to air their views with tourism bosses and contribute towards a healthy debate on the future of the sector with key decision makers. The findings of this debate will certainly inform our thinking in our work advising the region’s hospitality and tourism operators.” Guests at the event were: Anna Izza, Marketing Lancashire; Claire Smith, StayBlackpool; Andrew Haworth, Promenade Hotel; Samantha Lewis, Dalmeny Hotel; Jane Kelly, Sandcastle Waterpark; Daniel Rich, Barton Grange Hotel; Malcolm Ireland, Napthens; Roy Wilkinson, Guy’s Thatched Hamlet; Tom Metcalf, Little Touches; Judith Dugdale, Moore and Smalley.