Ambitious Tourism

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On Wednesday last week, the Committee for Economic Development held its annual Tourism Seminar ably presented by Visit Guernsey.  As part of that seminar, I gave a short speech which I hoped would provoke discussion and, even better,  inspire action to support all year round attractions in Guernsey.

Unbeknownst to me when I wrote my speech, the speakers at the IOD Conference the following day called for a more ambitious approach by government.  In response to that and as the Tourism Seminar was, unfortunately in my view, not open to the media but only invited guests, my speech is below so that others may discuss and contribute as to how we can be ambitious for the tourism sector.

“When I was asked to be tourism lead for Economic Development, I grabbed the chance to being part of a team which will create a Tourism Strategy to support the industry and show the public just how important tourism was both to government and to the Bailiwick. I also looked forward to participating in this annual event which I can see is clearly a highlight just by looking at the number of you who have turned up today.

However, no matter how interesting the speakers are today, this event should not just be about turning up and listening – it is about us buying into the idea that tourism in the Bailiwick can, and will be, a thriving industry. How we can turn the numbers watching the Film into visitors? How can we get people to talk about the natural beauty of the Bailiwick, our history and our people? Those Great Encounters we heard about earlier. I believe today is about how all of us here today plan to make tourism a success story and, to that end, I am sure the workshop later will prove very worthwhile.

We have heard from Visit Guernsey and how they have been working hard to market what Guernsey has to offer the tourist. The new website will be an excellent window into what we offer. So much has been done in the wake of the Film it still amazes me I ever doubted our ability to take advantage of this unique opportunity and tell the world about the Island that inspired the film. I particularly like the Occupation Trail we heard about and the idea of a passport – I wonder where they got that idea from?

However, our success must not solely rely on that work – it depends on the extent of the participation of all of us. Everyone can make a difference.

We have heard about the need for good air and sea links and how we are working on that with gusto because, of course, it is not just important for tourism but for everyone. We are also told we need visitor accommodation that meets the higher expectations of the traveller of today. Many of you have done your bit, improving your hotels, guest houses and self-catering units and even other visitor markets such as the popular AirBnB visitor. But more can be done and should be done.

We also need exciting visitor attractions and it is my thoughts, my ideas on that I wanted to share with you today.

We know that we are usually almost full during the summer months but that, during the rest of the year, we have rooms sitting empty awaiting visitors. But, next year, if all those anticipated travellers try to book during the summer and can’t, what will attract them to look at alternative dates during the shoulder months or, goodness me, even during January?

To do that, to be a 365 destination, we need high quality attractions preferably all year round which offer indoor and outdoor activities with a real connection with our Island. And not just super offerings like Oatlands – others can benefit us all.

With that I mind, rather than just talking about what we need, I thought I’d see if I could come up with something – a project, a vision – that could provide that special experience but one for year round visitors. Something which combined fun for the family with a world-wide hook. Maybe even an early entry for the Ideathon we also heard about earlier.

One such attraction in the UK already in existence immediately sprang to mind. A place which, in 1995, was just a twinkle in the eye of its creator. A place which ended up giving a disused piece of land a new purpose and, by combining education and research, created a year-round visitor attraction known throughout the world.

I am of course talking about the Eden Project in Cornwall which was created by Tim Smit and which houses the largest rainforest in captivity, stunning plants and exhibitions which serve as a backdrop to striking contemporary gardens, summer concerts and exciting year-round family events.

So why not here on Guernsey? Why not our very own Eden Project or Garden of Guernsey?

We have the land. There is 80.6 hectares of redundant glasshouse sites – land which under policy OC7 can be turned into tourist attractions. The policy says that proposals to develop redundant glasshouse sites will be supported where the proposal is for outdoor formal recreation or informal leisure and recreation – subject of course to compliance with all relevant policies of the Island Development Plan. Similarly, Policy OC9 allows new indoor formal recreation development.

The States’ approved economic strategy sets out the intent to attract entrepreneurs to Guernsey, to encourage medtech firms to undertake research here and for groups to put on events which attract visitors year on year. Whilst we don’t have bags of money to spare, we do have a nimble, accessible government willing to listen to new ideas. I have also spoken to businesses who are willing to get involved in a public private partnership to promote tourism to the Bailiwick.

Long may we have the natural beauty of this Island but we also need a visitor attraction which offers activities – music festivals, art exhibitions, a marriage venue, ice skating rinks and maybe even a big screen! We need a creator like Tim Smit and others who have an idea and want to get business, government and the people of Guernsey together to create a world renowned venue worth visiting any time of year. One that will benefit all of us both residents, businesses and tourists alike.

You may say it is a dream – even a pipe dream – but I have started by asking what is required for Guernsey to become part of Eden Project International and we shall see what happens next ….

Dreams have to start somewhere – why not here in Guernsey? Let’s be inspired by the Islands we call home.”

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