How Bradford Council has worked to keep tourism alive with virtual visits

Ahead of Yorkshire Day tomorrow – and as the city re-enters localised restrictions – we hear from the authority’s VisitBradford tourism chief Rachel Oxborough about how it has used online engagement to keep in touch with visitors and residents in recent months 

Credit: Tim Green/CC BY 2.0

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every sector of industry, but tourism and hospitality has suffered more than most. 

The recent All-Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism’s report, Pathways to Recovery, revealed that just 11% of hospitality businesses in the UK have been able to operate normally during lockdown, highlighting the scale of the damage done.

With businesses forced to close their doors indefinitely and locals and visitors staying safely at home, it has been an incredibly testing time for the sector. Much like other local authorities, tourism is a key revenue driver for Bradford Council, funding many of the services which people rely on. We knew we had to find new ways to engage people, protect and support the industry under extremely challenging circumstances.
Opening up new lines of communication became vital to us as a tourism service, as we needed to reach out to local businesses struggling for survival, enable residents to enjoy what our region has to offer from the comfort of their own home, and encourage visitors to keep us front of mind with the message to #VisitBradfordLater. 

However, while many facets of local authority services were able to switch to digital with relative ease, tourism is inherently more challenging. How do you take tourism online when, by its very nature, it is driven by presence in person?

Prior to the pandemic, we had placed more focus on communicating via our social media channels. Our remit naturally led us to be more outward-looking – enticing people from outside the district, as opposed to contacting residents. 

However, once restrictions started to come into force, we realised we needed to speak more directly to our two distinct audiences: tourism businesses; and visitors – whether residents or tourists to the area. 

Proportion of hospitality businesses that have continued operating as normal during lockdown, according to APPG report

Number of local attractions and accommodation providers receiving a weekly newsletter from Bradford Council

1 August
Date of Yorkshire Day each year

Number of citizens that have signed up to ‘What’s On’ newsletter via the website since April

Partnering with the Digital Engagement team at the council, we gained access to the Granicus govDelivery platform which was already being successfully used by various teams. Using the technology, we were quickly able to establish a visitor newsletter to send out to people who are signed up to Bradford Council’s ‘What’s On’ updates, plus we added a further sign-up facility through the website, for people outside of the district. Over 800 people have signed up in this way since April, and the newsletter goes out to over 17,350 recipients every week – sharing the latest information and inspiration for things to do across the district during the pandemic. 

On the business side, we developed a weekly newsletter for our existing tourism business contacts comprising around 140 attractions and accommodation providers. Our open rate is 35% and click rate is 27%, which reflects how important it has become as a source of useful sector information around Covid-19 – from grants to protocols – for those who receive it. We are in the process of introducing a sign-up facility which we can share on other platforms to grow our subscriptions.

Visiting virtually
Virtual visits to Bradford via have soared by 108% in the past few months, despite physical visitor and tourist attractions keeping their doors closed. People have used it to plan future visits but also explore the new ‘Days In’ page which has creative activities for children and adults to get involved in. Blogs posted to the site have been more popular still, experiencing a 2,000% increase in the number of people viewing them. 

We’ve also built stronger relationships with our stakeholders as a result of the newsletter activity; for example, the Peace Museum contacted us after receiving the business newsletter to ask if they could get involved with an Instagram takeover on VisitBradford and this gave us some great content, and boosted their followers. 

Once restrictions started to come into force, we realised we needed to speak more directly to our two distinct audiences: tourism businesses; and visitors – whether residents or tourists to the area.

Our social media accounts have seen an increase in the number of impressions, rising by 108% on Instagram and 61% on Twitter. Thanks to the email newsletters, we were able to get the #VisitBradfordLater message out there, creating a means of getting people to interact with our website and social media channels. Most importantly, we have been able to effectively communicate important information and help people feel supported at this difficult time.
What we’ve achieved together in recent months since taking tourism online has kept our region alive and helped us prepare to come back fighting as we emerge from lockdown and deal with ongoing uncertainty. Such has been the success of the new email newsletters that they will be a key part of our strategy moving forward. 

Online has been so important to us over the last few months and the newsletter has given us the opportunity to drive traffic towards our website, blogs and social media channels. When we invite people to Rediscover Bradford, our focus will be how we can build on the success so far, evolving our use of email as an important tool in helping to secure tourism’s future in Bradford.

This article was written before the government reintroduced restrictions on Bradford and other parts of northern England.


Sam Trendall

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