Partnership Members Hear Scilly’s Tourism Is ‘On The Way Up’

Islands Partnership AGM Oct 2015Scilly’s tourism economy is on the way up. That was the upbeat message delivered yesterday at the annual general meeting of the Islands’ Partnership, where it was also revealed that tourism is now worth £50m to our islands’ economy annually.

But Chairman Robert Francis was keen to stress that Scilly businesses can’t take further market growth for granted.

Robert says the weather always helps, especially to encourage people to rebook for the following year.

He says it’s unclear whether this summer’s poorer conditions will have an affect, although bookings for 2016 appear to be doing well so far.

Over 700,000 people clicked on the tourism website last season.

It’s more than a 30% rise on 2014 and Executive Director David Jackson said the Partnership wants to increase the conversion rate so more interested web viewers actually come over.

There are many reasons for the upturn. Instability in North African destinations is one factor as well as the improving economy.

But David said the IP’s promotional efforts are also bearing fruit because our visitor numbers are up 9%, whereas Visit England has reported a 9% fall in overnight stays across the country this year.

He said that the Partnership has made “huge strides forward” with the busiest year for PR activity to date.

Targeted promotion to families, pre-school families and over 55’s – the so called ‘active empty nesters’ – would continue along with campaigns to attract solo travellers, yachters and ‘cash rich, time poor’ couples without kids.

That group is most likely to pursue the short break market.

Scilly will be promoted as part of a government funded £5 million Westcountry marketing campaign targeting potential visitors in the United States, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands and, to a lesser extent, Scandinavia and Ireland.

Scilly will be represented by images of the islands with the slogan ‘Hop from Isle to Isle.’

The new IP events team will also develop more reasons to visit.

David said that their new regatta event will be a celebration of our maritime heritage over August Bank Holiday, from the 26th to 29th of the month.

Some members have reported empty rooms at this time and it is hoped the event will help fill spaces.

During the question and answer session, FRIST coordinator Marian Bennett wanted to know when the IP’s transport survey results will be made public.

David said the directors would decide that, but he did reveal some top-line figures in response to Marian’s questions.

There had been a surprisingly low response rate for such an emotive issue – just 40 replies.

David said that calls for a year round boat service and helicopter were low down on the wish lists submitted. And responses were evenly split over the introduction of Sunday flying.

IP director and Steamship Company Chief Executive Rob Goldsmith said the company wants to flatten the peaks and troughs in passenger movements.

Spreading passenger movements over seven days and stretching the season would help to achieve this.

But Rob reiterated that there has to be more support for Sunday flights from the entire business community and not just larger players. And there won’t be seven-day air services next year.

That’s because of the uncertainty over availability of air traffic controllers, and the Council’s decision to hand back the airport lease brings too many questions at this stage.

Rob said there would be Sunday Scillonian sailings again in 2016 although numbers were down this year, mainly due to bad weather dissuading day-trippers.

Staying on the water, David Jackson and Robert Francis paid tribute to volunteer cruise ship greeters who act as Scilly ambassadors.

The islands’ have experienced their largest cruise ship season to date, but not all IP members are convinced that the effort is worth it.

There were suggestions that Hugh Town had been ‘swamped.’

Nick Jenkins questioned whether Scilly was “killing the golden goose” by encouraging short daytrips on the liners rather than longer overnight stays.

He wanted to know whether cruise ship promotion was being monitored for effectiveness in encouraging return visits.

David Jackson explained that this year cruise passengers were given Scilly postcards that could unlock discounts when making an independent journey, so we should find out.

Karen Phillips spoke out and confirmed that she had received guests who returned after they discovered Scilly on a cruise ship visit and John May felt that town retailers benefitted from the extra passengers.

Nick wondered whether the cruises could be scheduled away from Sundays, when shops are often shut, but David explained that it was up to the operators and beyond local control.

Speaking to Radio Scilly after the meeting, IP Chairman Robert Francis said that David Jackson has made a real difference in his first year as Executive Director.

Robert feels his previous experience promoting the city of Bath has brought “a whole new dimension” to tourism efforts in Scilly.

At the end of the meeting, two new Directors were announced following the members’ ballot earlier in the day.

Tresco Abbey Garden curator Mike Nelhams, Deputy Land Steward Luke Humphries and IoS Country Guesthouse owner Sabine Schraudolph were up for the two board seats. Sabine and Luke were elected.

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