Selling our city
How do you go about selling a city like Sheffield? Although we are perhaps behind other cities in being the kind of place someone might choose to spend the weekend, leisure tourism is no doubt becoming increasingly important.
In the last few years I’ve been vaguely aware of some limited attempts as position the city a place to visit, but it seems like this hasn’t been a priority.
The Leopold hotel recently highlighted two articles in the Times and the Manchester evening news where Sheffield came out favourably as a weekend destination, so hopefully this shows that the potential is there and we do have something to offer visitors.
I decided to put a few questions to Wendy Ulyett, tourism manager for welcometosheffield.co.uk to find out where we are at in terms of marketing Sheffield as a leisure destination and what the plans are for the future.
Tell us a bit about Yorkshire South and your role.
Hmm… have been thinking about a short succinct answer to this and have failed miserably so here’s the long version! Yorkshire South Tourism was set up about three years ago in conjunction with the four local authorities in South Yorkshire and Yorkshire Forward (more recently via Welcome to Yorkshire) to act as a ‘destination marketing organisation’.
Latterly, because of changes to funding structures and because of Sheffield wanting to ensure that they city has a clear identity within the tourism market, the tourism team which were seconded to Yorkshire South Tourism have returned to a Sheffield-specific role, and will form an integral part of the new Marketing Sheffield structure.
This might all sound a bit confusing but be assured it’s a really positive move for Sheffield. Tourism is higher up the political agenda – both locally and regionally with the new LEP structures and city tourism is high on the agenda for the Government-funded agency, Visit Britain.
The role of the tourism team within Marketing Sheffield is to facilitate routes to market for the great tourism product Sheffield can offer. Conference and meeting space, quality hotels, major events (sports, music, theatre, exhibitions), galleries and museums all add to Sheffield’s overall offer. They are all integral to the visitor experience – for instance, delegates seeing a modern city when they come to a conference are 70% likely to return as a leisure visitor.
Do you have research about what people who don’t know Sheffield think of it? If so, what does it say?
The regional tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire, manages and annual visitor survey which is taken within Sheffield but at the moment, we don’t have any perceptions research which would cover those people who aren’t familiar with Sheffield.
Anecdotally, we would expect it to say either ‘Sheffield – northern industrial city, grey, dirty and in need of investment’ (which is a perception we clearly need to tackle, although not purely from a tourism perspective) or ‘Sheffield – don’t know anything about the place’ (which is actually an easier issue to tackle!)
What we do know from the visitor research is that for more than 90% of visitors Sheffield exceeds their expectations and that 97% of visitors would recommend Sheffield to their friends as a great place to visit.
Is Sheffield an easy city to sell? In terms of tourism, which other destinations are our competitors and how are we different?
It’s much easier to sell Sheffield than it was 20 years ago. With all of the investment that has been made – from both public sector and the private sector – the city is now a great destination, and that makes it much easier. I’ve already mentioned perceptions, and getting over these is the hardest part. Once people start to learn more about Sheffield it sells itself!
It has to be said that our local residents are amongst our best ambassadors but at the same time, they don’t always talk positively about the city, to outsiders.
I can understand local residents having a gripe about the daily grind of life, and that sometimes the public services they encounter don’t always meet their expectations. But I’d really love it if we could get residents to hold their heads up high and, when they are talking to people from outside of Sheffield, talk about the great things, the big changes, the fantastic venues, the great location, that (as local residents) we sometimes take for granted.
Competitor cities – well, geographically we’re competing with Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham – all relatively centrally located. In real terms, we’re competing with more than just other ‘cities’ – we’re competing against ‘experiences’. The choice journey we make when planning a short break is often led more by what we want to do/see – the experiences we’ll have, with the location of where we might see it/do it a secondary factor.
Because Sheffield has such an wide appeal – events, live music, indulgent experiences such as spas and golf, outdoor and extreme sports, there are actually few cities who are direct competitors because there are so few cities that can offer such a range of experiences.
In terms of business tourism – conferences etc, then our competitors are less obvious than perhaps might be first thought of. Cities like Newcastle (similar sized meeting/conference venues, similar number of hotel rooms etc) are more directly our competitors than cities such as Leeds and Manchester.
Where is Sheffield now in terms of being a tourist destination and where do you want it to be? Do you have actual targets in terms of numbers of visitors that you can share?
It depends on which data you look at. The aspiration is that Sheffield is in the top five cities in England to visit. We’re about seven places below where we’d like to be. Our success will be measured in percentage terms – we’ve been working on a 5% year-on-year growth target (this is in line with the regional requirements).
I’m guessing welcometosheffield.co.uk and yorkshiresouth.com are part of Sheffield’s tourism campaign. Can you summarise what else is in your strategy to enable you to achieve your targets?
yorkshiresouth.com will soon be subsumed into the welcometosheffield.co.uk web site. The website is becoming the key website for the city (within the new Marketing Sheffield strategy, there are three key strands identified:
- talent (focused on the universities and retention of key graduate skills)
- trade (focused on investment and business growth)
The tourism-related pages within the site form the primary call to action for all of our activity. The strategy is still being developed but key elements will be PR-led marketing rather than media-placed advertisements; strategic partnerships with Welcome to Yorkshire and the Peak District, both of which have established marketing campaigns to national and international audiences; and social media activity.
Some people in Sheffield say that the best bits of the city are off the radar and aren’t the sort of thing you can easily package up as part of a big marketing drive. Do you think that any push to sell the city should try to reflect its full breadth and diversity – and if so how do you ensure this is captured as part of your campaign?
Some of the best bits of the city are the less obvious ones, I’d agree with that, but we can turn that into a key strength – hidden gems, the element of discovery and surprise all add to a memorable experience. Our other target is to ensure we offer some golden ticket opportunities so that we can capitalize on the PR that will bring – online offers that are provide a unique element, an experience that money can’t buy; PR stories that are quirky – which is often what some of the off the radar things are anyway usually grab the media’s attention.
We’ll capture some of this through ‘insider ideas’-type features; personal endorsements; top ten things to see. Not taking this quite as far as the new ‘bucket list’ concept but again, targeting a particular audience, or lifestyle publication etc.
So it seems that the city’s approach to marketing itself as a tourist destination, and more widely in the areas of trade and talent, may now step up a gear as they are taken more seriously as strategic priorities.
What do you think? How would you market Sheffield? Are they going about this the right way? Do we, as residents, have a role t play? And can we compete with other cities and experiences in terms of attracting tourists?