Case Study: Shropshire Hills Destination Partnership
The AONB Partnership facilitates the Shropshire Hills Destination Partnership, working closely with Shropshire Hills Tourism, the recognised Destination Management Organisation (DMO) for the area. This joint working with the main local organisation for tourism businesses is especially valuable since local authority support for the tourism sector has declined significantly in recent years.
The AONB Partnership has played a central role in tourism in the area since 2011. It has supported the production of a Sustainable Tourism Strategy and achieved membership of the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas. This has helped ‘mainstream’ sustainability in tourism locally, and influenced activity at a County level.
Shropshire Hills Tourism is the lead marketing body for the area. The AONB Partnership closely supports this and takes a leading role in supporting the other main function of a DMO – that of strategic management of the destination. We are also able to dovetail these tourism activities closely with the AONB Management Plan.
What was done
The AONB Partnership secured external funding for the preparation of the 2011-16 Sustainable Tourism Strategy, and has taken a leading role with the Destination Partnership since that time. The Destination Partnership is the main place where representatives from tourism businesses can get together with organisations managing key sites, with public sector bodies and with local community representatives. The communication and co-ordination achieved through this has done much to raise the profile of the AONB landscape and sustainable approaches to tourism. The Destination Partnership area is focussed on the Shropshire Hills but slightly larger than the AONB. It encompasses the market towns around the designated area, and this work therefore provides valuable linkages between the AONB and these towns.
In 2016 the Destination Partnership led a bid for RDPE Growth Programme (EAFRD) funding for Tourism Co-operation. This secured a £50k grant for on-line promotion of the area linked to themes set out in the Sustainable Tourism Strategy. These include walking and outdoor activities, local food and drink, and arts and crafts.
The strategic work outlined above complements other practical collaboration with Shropshire Hills Tourism. One example is ‘Great Days in the Shropshire Hills’, a visitor welcome map and leaflet entirely funded through advertising by local tourism businesses. Shropshire Hills Tourism manages the main web portal for the area www.visitshropshirehills.co.uk with a strong sustainable tourism message. Together we provide an annual networking and leaflet swap event for tourism businesses. A longstanding Sustainable Business Network run by the AONB Partnership has recently concluded. We are working with Shropshire Hills Tourism and other Destination Partners to develop stronger working relationships with business through a new destination network.
In 2017 the Sustainable Tourism Strategy is being reviewed and updated by the Destination Partnership, with lead facilitation role by the AONB Partnership. This will ensure continued prominence of the AONB and sustainability in the development of tourism in the area in the years ahead. We also intend to use the document to unlock future funding opportunities. The new Strategy will involve as many businesses as possible gathering their views through a business survey, one to one consultations and larger events. There remains a culture of support for sustainability among tourism businesses in the area. However there are pressures resulting from reductions in public sector funding, inappropriate developments affecting the landscape, localised pressure from visitors at popular sites and increasing costs.
- The Destination Partnership has direct members and and an additional and growing mailing list of interested parties. This gives the AONB Partnership direct contact with at least 40 key people from a wide variety of organisations in relation to tourism on a regular basis. Shropshire Hills Tourism has around 170 members, and the joint working means these businesses are much more aware of the AONB than they would be otherwise.
- £50k of external funding has been secured by the Destination Partnership with support from Shropshire Council for tourism co-operation activity in the area.
- The Shropshire Hills is one of 18 of the 58 AONBs and National Parks in the UK to be internationally accredited for sustainable tourism. Through this we are part of a network of 157 Sustainable Destinations in 19 countries, sharing best practice and involving a growing number of local tourism businesses as partners, local government, NGOs and many more. As the Shropshire Hills is a less well known tourism destination, the Charter helps to raise the profile of the area nationally. In addition it adds weight to recognition of the AONB as a valuable asset for Shropshire.
- Close relationship with tourism association over many years. Local government reorganisation prompted the change from a local authority District based tourism association to one with a geography and identity coinciding with the AONB. Licencing of a derivation of the AONB logo to Shropshire Hills Tourism for their own organisation helps to reinforce this connection.
- Practical support by the AONB Partnership has been valued by Shropshire Hills Tourism as a small company with no staff or premises run by people in their own time in addition to their own businesses. This has included providing meeting space, storage space, help with production and distribution of print and promotion, linking websites and social media, admin support and acting as a sounding board for new ideas.
- The Destination Partnership operates in an open and transparent way, with notes of meetings posted on a web page.
- DMOs and tourism groups in neighbouring areas vary in their form and level of activity, and more effort is needed to collaborate with adjoining areas on sustainable tourism.
Quote from project manager:
“Running a regular group to help co-ordinate partners’ activities is a function which is often not a priority for commercial organisations, and with the decline in local authority capacity, this has been an issue for tourism in Shropshire. In the Shropshire Hills, the AONB Partnership has been able to fulfil this role, helping to make the AONB and everything that goes with it at the centre of tourism in the area.” – Phil Holden, AONB Partnership Manager, Chair of Destination Partnership
Quote from participant:
“Shropshire Hills Tourism is a business-led organisation and as such priorities are often given to the shorter timescale development, marketing and other activities. Working with the AONB under the DP umbrella we can focus on the longer term strategic aims using their excellent staff for support, especially as having a long term strategy is important when applying for funding.” – Paul Davis, Chair of Shropshire Hills Tourism
Key search words: Sustainable tourism, business, networks, partnership, strategy, promotion
Photo Credits: Shropshire Hills Destination Partnership