Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by South West Tourism (CEM 123)

1.   Regional Strategy: "Towards 2020"

  South West Tourism (previously known as West Country Tourist Board) is the official Regional Tourist Board for the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire—and includes within it the Unitary Authorities of Torbay, Plymouth, Bristol, Bath and Swindon. The Board is a "company limited by guarantee" and is funded through a mix of public/private sector contributions and through its own commercial activities. It currently services over 3,000 commercial members. Its primary aims are to help promote and develop tourism throughout the South West of England in order to bring wider social and economic benefits to the region.

  The South West accounts for one sixth of all tourism spending in England with an estimated annual tourism spend of over £5.7 billion. It supports an estimated 225,000 jobs throughout the region (directly and indirectly) and accounts for 10 per cent of the region's total GDP. Apart from London, it represents the largest single holiday destination region within the UK.

  In March 1998, the Board published a new Regional Strategy for the South West—"Towards 2020". The Strategy provides a common framework for the development of tourism over the next 20 years and is referred to in the (draft) Government Regional Planning Guidance for the South West (Note: a copy of the Strategy can be accessed via the Board's website at:

  The Strategy aims to ensure that the South West region retains its pre-eminent place as a key UK regional destination—and that it becomes one of Europe's leading tourism destinations by 2020. To do this the Strategy has recognised the important cultural/heritage assets of the region and the need to both safeguard and optimise their potential in terms of attracting more, higher spend, visitors.

  Although the Strategy itself does not directly refer to "Cemeteries", the Board does recognise the particular appeal and potential for such sites to provide tangible links with people and events from the past. The Strategy recognises the importance of the region's built and cultural heritage in general as providing key assets for tourism. They also appeal very much to key target market segments (often older, more affluent visitors) who are keen to explore genealogy/family history. This is itself a fast-growing area of interest—recent evidence, for example, has suggested that some 7 per cent of the population of the USA is currently involved in some form of "family history" activity. The US represents a primary overseas target market for the Board.

  The importance of the heritage environment—especially in terms of attracting overseas visitors—has been evidenced by various national/regional tourism surveys. The 1999 ETC Survey of Visits to Tourist Attractions, for example, estimated that 32 per cent of visitors to historic buildings in England were from abroad. The United Kingdom Tourism Survey (UKTS) found that 17 per cent of all British (domestic) holidaymakers visited "heritage" sites within the UK in 1999. Other research (Mintel, 1998) has previously pointed out the wider appeal of historic properties—with 27 per cent of the adult population having visited such attractions in the previous 12 months.

  In terms of its ecclesiastical heritage, the region contains many old churches and cemeteries, as well as its more famous Cathedrals (Salisbury, Wells and Exeter). According to the "English Heritage Monitor" report (ETC, 2000), the West Country—together with East Midlands and East of England regions—contains most of the Grade 1 listed Churches in England. Relatively few of these would, it seems, yet attract any significant numbers of tourist visitors. According to the ETC "Visits to Churches" Report (1999), just Bath Abbey—with some 320,000 visitors—and Dorchester Abbey appear in the listings of parish churches with at least 50,000 visitors. Lacock in Wiltshire—with c.40,000 visitors—comes close. Churches such as Padstow (Cornwall) have c.16,000 visitors.

2.   What help has been given to help promote cemeteries as part of a "Tourism Resource"?

  No specific assistance has been given by South West Tourism. We are aware, however, of various local marketing initiatives within the region which have highlighted the particular appeal of visiting churches and their associated cemeteries. For example, North Cornwall District Council have produced a Church Trail series of guides—which take in some 12 churches within the District. Elsewhere, reference to individual Churches appear in various Local Guides, eg Torbay guide refers to the Church where Agatha Christie was christened etc, and as such churches and cemeteries can be seen as adding to the overall tourism experience of an area for those visitors who have an interest in such aspects.

  In addition, it is perhaps little known in the South West that the region contains part of a recognised Council of Europe Cultural Route; the St Michael's Way from Lelant in Cornwall to Merazion is included as part of the Pilgrim Route to Santiago de Composta in Spain—in recognition, in part, of the area's close religious/Celtic Christianity connections. One of the aims of this initiative included securing "potential long-term benefits for tourism and conservation of cultural assets".

3.   What role does SWT see for cemeteries as a tourism resource?

  As previously indicated SWT very much recognises the importance of the rich cultural/built heritage in terms of helping to under-pin the region's strength as a major tourism destination. We feel that Cemeteries and Churches represent an important "unrecognised" source of interest for many, and that more could be done to help promote their connections with, for example, famous people from the past. The Board has recently produced a "Film/TV Map" for the region and there seems little doubt that many people are interested in such tangible links with past events and people. Also, the growing interest in "family history", as indicated, represents a growing potential market in terms of visiting cemeteries. There is little doubt that people are increasingly looking for what might be termed "authentic" visitor experiences—and which are linked to real people and events.

  In terms of what specifically could—or should be done—to make more of such connections, it is clear that any approach will call for particular sensitivity. It is interesting perhaps to note that—from a consumer's point of view—recent surveys have tended to point towards the following "key factors for success" for any "heritage based" attraction:

    —  Inexpensive and visitor friendly

    —  Accessible to wide range of people

    —  Able to balance access and conservation

    —  Able to maintain authenticity of the site.

  Clearly, cemeteries could be seen to meet such criteria! It is also of interest to note that much more seems to be made of such places in eg USA and Canada where various guides/trails have been developed. There is also a new web-site in this country on the subject of "Churches and Tourism"—and indicates the growing interest in such aspects of our past heritage in an increasingly secular society. More useful information on such aspects, incidentally, can be obtained via Dr Peter Howard of Plymouth University who is also something of an expert on such issues.

Delwyn Matthews

Development Manager

South West Tourism

January 2001

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