Finally waving goodbye to the 1950s the Council's plan was to 'redirect resources towards information online and via social media to reach a wider audience.' But what should we actually tell a global audience about ourselves and our area? The decision seemed almost as complex as the Voyager mission to outer space. Fortunately, there were experts at hand.
We all recall the overwhelming excitement last September, when a brilliant new tourism marketing strategy came up with the idea of rebranding Morecambe as 'Morecambe Bay' and Lancaster as 'Lancaster, including the Lune Valley'
These two 'different but complementary' destination brands were identified by Windermere-based marketing consultants Cairn, funded by Lancashire County Council, Marketing Lancashire and Lancaster City Council. (see our report from September 2013).
That was just the beginning though. In July 2014, following extensive partnership working and consumer testing, the deckchairs were finally rearranged and the new brand ‘attributes’ were announced with some fanfare from Councillor Sands, our local tourism czar. Here they are:
• The Morecambe Bay brand identifies Morecambe Bay as “One of England’s emerging destinations, incomparable to anything in the UK” and “an inspiring coastal area” with rich cultural heritage, outstanding nature and wildlife, with diverse and authentic towns and villages to explore.
• Lancaster (including the Lune Valley) - One of England’s most vibrant, historic cities, where culture and heritage captivate and inspire visitors. Lancaster’s attributes include the castle and heritage attractions, architecture, theatre, arts and events.
Celebrating the culmination of a year of expert effort with the launch of these two paragraphs of unsurpassed blandness, evenly applicable to dozens of UK destinations, Ruth Connor, CEO of Marketing Lancashire, announced:
“Marketing Lancashire was delighted to be part of the process of developing the destination brand for Lancaster and Morecambe. From the unparalleled natural beauty of the Bay to the history, culture and vibrancy of Lancashire’s Heritage City, the new brand will help unlock the potential of the area as a short breaks destination that can rival the likes of York or Chester and will attract new visitors from both the UK and internationally.”
How is it doing?
Two months on, Virtual Lancaster went looking online for 'destination' information about Lancaster and Morecambe. Top of the Google search rankings for places to visit in the north of England is England's official tourist website 'Visit England'. But the Visit England map of 'Places and Cities to Visit' doesn't show any destinations between Blackpool and the Lake District. So we entered specific site-searches for Lancaster and Morecambe.
Our 'Lancaster' search returned 5 results -
- one for Lancashire as a whole
- two for tours of the Castle,
- one for cheese shops in Garstang
- one for an attraction in Tewkesbury
- one for the Tern project bird artwork on the prom - 'have your photo taken with Eric'
- one for kayaking from Milnethorpe
- one for a walk from Cleveleys to Fleetwood
- one for Fleetwood Museum
- one for a music hall in Leeds
A month ago the Morecambe search returned 0 results. So that's something. The Tern project listing is the one new relevant listing. It links to the Visit Lancashire website where there is actually less information about it.
Our 'Scarborough' search returned 27 results
In comparison, a search for 'Scarborough' on Visit England returns 27 results, including festivals of art, music, food and culture, its theatres, its museums - if someone sneezes in Scarborough it's a globally advertised attraction.
Lancaster & Morecambe are phenomenally better
You have to hand it to Scarborough, in the real-world it's a peaceful place to die in, if a bit draughty. We, on the other hand, have festivals for art, music, literature, food, drink, heritage, dance, theatre and comedy in Lancaster. We have a fantastic year-round offering of theatre, art-house cinema, variety, music and dance events. AND the most kick-ass castle in the north of England. And an ancient priory AND a cathedral that's an architectural gem. Parks, rivers, mountains, dales, canals, cycle trails, nature reserves.... Virtual Lancaster has a massive website full of it and we can't keep up with it all, frankly.
York (69 results) is mainly a stack of rubble in a traffic jam and an archaeologically adulterated hole in the ground under a shopping precinct. But it punches consistently above its weight and gets ten times the hype. York brands itself as 'Britain's most beautiful city' (it's not but they obviously take themselves seriously). It also flirted briefly with the strapline 'Britain's home of chocolate'. It's good, it's very good, but it doesn't beat 'Witch City' or even 'Best Brews in Britain' (we like our coffee). (You can probably think of many other engaging characteristics that are unique to Lancaster.)
In Morecambe there are festivals for kites, watersports, heritage and an avalanche of music, variety and fun events and surprising entertainment plus all kinds of markets and a fabulous long seafront and all that adorable art-deco archi-schtick. Miles of sands and strange landscapes in all directions and baywalk adventure you can't find anywhere else too, and yet it isn't marketed at all on the main English tourism website.
To be fair, the entire Visit England website is a national embarrassment. All it says about Lancashire is 'Hearty casserole, brisk Pennine walks and neon-lit seaside towns – there's something heart-warming about Lancashire.' They couldn't even get the name 'hot-pot' right.
Regional presence online improves
In contrast, our local http://www.citycoastcountryside.co.uk/ visitor information website is a good, useful, competent resource (even if it has a pretty random name) and Visit Lancashire, the official Lancashire tourist / visitor information website does manage to slip in the odd mention about us when it's not totally mesmerised by Blackpool, but Visit England'reaches a wider global audience.
If you're a foreigner who isn't familiar with the UK and you don't know already that Lancaster and Morecambe are the best bits, the Visit England website seems designed to stop you finding out. Visit England should at least have Lancaster and Morecambe on its map. We do exist and it's offensive and ignorant that they negate that. It should also have links to our local Lancaster & Morecambe visitor information website in all the places that normal people go looking.
Visit Britain and Visit England North West
On Visit England North West, Lancaster and Morecambe entirely failed to exist. As did practically everywhere but Manchester, Liverpool, the Lakes and Blackpool.
On the Visit Britain website Lancaster and Morecambe (and Scarborough) also failed to exist - but a search for York got 29 results - of which about 10 were actually about York. Like Visit England and Visit England North West it's a surprisingly pointless website overall but if they all had findable links to www.citycoastcountryside.co.uk they would be slightly less of a dead loss.
The York tourist board seem to have realised that it's not useful to spend months shuffling stale adjectives around into generic cliches. It's useful to build clear links from the places where people start their searches to create quick and easy pathways to reliable, specific, local information. This helps people make expensive choices with confidence. This is what the Lancaster City Cabinet decided to do, though they've yet to drive any relevant content into the top-ranking tourism sites that come up in online searches. We still look forward to seeing it happen.