Visit County Durham

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Visit County Durham is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Managing Director
The dramatic Durham City skyline,
comprising of the Durham Cathedral
and Castle UNESCO World Heritage Site
Founded in 2006, Visit County Durham is the destination
management organisation for the county of Durham,
working on behalf of businesses and public agencies.
Working closely with VisitEngland, VisitBritain, the DCMS and
a wide range of public and private sector partners and tourism
businesses both in Durham and across England, its primary aim
is to grow the county’s visitor economy. Managing Director
Michelle Gorman explains more about the strategy around which
it operates and some of the core projects it is undertaking.
In 2003, England’s nine Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) were made
responsible for tourism within their regions. The RDA in our area, One North East,
created Tourism Network North East in order to unite four regional area tourism
partnerships: County Durham, Northumberland, Tees Valley and Tyne and Wear.
Through this process, Visit County Durham was established in 2006 as a private,
not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee with a board of directors.
Following the demise of the RDAs, the staff team of Visit County Durham
transferred to the local authority – Durham County Council – but we retained Visit
County Durham Ltd and a private sector led board to add industry-specific expertise
and advise on the strategic direction of tourism in the county. Visit County
Durham’s operating model is that of a Destination Management Organisation
working within the framework of a local authority; we deliver Durham County
Council’s destination management, destination marketing and place marketing
functions. This is a public/private model that has recently been used as a case study
in a practical destination management handbook for the World Bank.
»Managing Director:
»Established in 2006
»Based inDurham City, County
management, destination
marketing, place marketing
»No. of employees: 16
Visit County Durham
Highlighting best practice
Purpose and ethos
At the heart of the organisation, our
purpose is to provide added value
to tourism activity in the county and
leadership to both the public and
private sectors on the visitor economy.
We also bring coordination and
leadership to tourism activity across the
county and work with public agencies,
local authorities and tourismbusinesses.
Our day-to-day work is shaped and
influenced by the County’s tourism
strategy – the Durham Tourism
Management Plan. Our main activity is
destination management, which means
influencing or delivering activities
directly that relate to visitors and the
visitor economy, including marketing,
information services, product
development, visitor experience,
business engagement and workforce
development. Many people are
involved in delivering a vibrant visitor
economy and one organisation cannot
do it alone, which is why we are a
partnership. We take a different role in
each of our areas of activity depending
on need and existing arrangements.
Underpinning our objectives are the
principles of sustainable tourism, which
is of particular importance in a county
where a UNESCO World Heritage
Site is at the heart of our historic city
and protected landscapes cover large
swathes of our rural areas. Sustainable
tourism ensures that development is
balanced between the needs of the
visitor, environment, residents and
businesses and delivers benefits for all.
How we perform our roles
We undertake seven core functions
and act as either facilitator or deliverer
for each one. They are strategic
direction, research and performance
evaluation, representation and
communications, stakeholder relations,
partnership engagement, marketing
and product development.
To deliver on these responsibilities we
have built a small but highly skilled
staff team of 16, who help to ensure
that we fulfil the functions required for
an effective Destination Management
Organisation. Team members,
where relevant, are members of
professional associations relating to
their specialism, while continuous
professional development is actively
encouraged and supported, with
tailored development and training
plans produced annually.
The Durham Tourism Management Plan
is used as an example of best practice
nationally and internationally – we
have supported English and European
destinations to develop destination
management plans. We are one of
only 11 destinations from around the
world that was asked to participate in
a study on destination management
for the Icelandic Tourist Board as an
example of best practice and successful
destination management. The
consultation process focussed primarily
on the plan, but also reviewed staff
structures, finance, operating model
and stakeholderengagement.
Exciting developments
are taking place at Raby
Many people
are involved in
delivering a
vibrant visitor
economy and
cannot do it
alone, which
is why we are
a partnership
Over the last few years our focus has
been on tourism product development
to fill some of the product gaps
identified in the county’s plan.
Our initiatives focus on product
development that makes the most of
Durham’s assets – history and heritage
and outstanding natural landscapes.
Our Dark Skies and Stargazing
initiative is one example, seed
funded by Visit County Durham and
delivered in partnership with the
North Pennines Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty and UNESCO Global
Geopark. The scheme developed the
region’s first ever North Pennines
Stargazing Festival, with 16 official
dark sky discovery sites in the North
Pennines AONB and UNESCO Global
Geopark, 12 of which are in Durham.
The festival is now held annually to
coincide with the autumn half-term,
which extends the tourism season and
supports local businesses to develop a
2021 will be designated as Durham’s
Year of Pilgrimage, with a programme
of themed events and activities set to
take place. At the centre of Durham’s
celebrations will be the official launch
of new walking trails across the North
East region, which tell the fascinating
stories of the Northern Saints. The
trails, which will position the North
East as the “Christian Crossroads of
the British Isles”, promote the region’s
Christian heritage but will appeal to
those of all faiths and beliefs. Durham
Cathedral will be at the centre of
the trails, recognising its role as a
destination for pilgrims. The six routes
follow ancient pilgrimage routes and
Durham’s Year of Pilgrimage will
explore modern day pilgrimage themes
The Northern Saints Trails project
will drive economic benefits to
communities throughout the
region and support churches to be
Facing challenges and moving
past them
The visitor economy is a significant
sector in County Durham, generating
benefits for the local economy and
providing jobs for our residents. It is
widely recognised that tourism is one
of the sectors most affected by the
Covid-19 pandemic; no destination has
escaped the decimation of its tourism
sector, and in County Durham the
impact is severe; it has affected the
economy, livelihoods, public services
and opportunities. The outlook for
recovery looks uncertain, but tourism
is a resilient and adaptable sector,
constantly evolving to meet the
changing needs of consumers and
global trends such as the rise in digital
and a growing demand for sustainable/
green goods and services.
Destination Management
Organisations are ideally placed to
lead and coordinate the recovery of
tourism. We are the interface between
the public and the private sectors,
businesses, national agencies and
government. It is important now, more
than ever before, that we collaborate
and work in partnership to come
back as a stronger, better coordinated
industry that is prepared and able to
respond to future challenges.
are ideally
placed to lead
coordinate the
recovery of
Dark sky tourism is
seeing growth in the

This article was sponsored by Visit County Durham. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.