Sunday, 28 June 2009

Hit the Midlands

I don't do celebrity stuff. But I can make an exception for an audience with Sir David Attenborough (right), albeit a brief one in a crowded, ill-prepared room with the public impatiently pressing their faces against the glass and queueing for autographs.
Our rendez-vous was at Creswell Crags on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire borders, where Sir David was opening a new museum and visitors centre dedicated to the Ice Age rock art that makes the Crags a centre for archaeology in the UK.
But enough of the caves. What everyone wants to know is what Sir David thinks about the world of travel. Here's a snippet of the interview, the full text of which will be published in the Daily Express next weekend.
'Of course tourism has to be controlled because it can get out of hand and destroy things. But, by and large, it's essential for anyone in conservation to learn to work with tourism for the greater good.'
Do you agree with Sir David? And would would you like to have asked him? Leave your comments below.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Getting paid for his summer holiday

Early starts on Tuesdays from now onwards. From this week Hit the North joins Duncan Barkes on the new breakfast show on City Talk to discuss all things travel at 7.45am.
We will be particularly looking at travel and tourism news, trends and controversies around the great Northwest and Wales. And we want to hear from you. Post your comments below, or follow us on Twitter. Tell us about the burning travel issues where you are and we'll put them on air.
To kick things off, I'll be asking if it's time to hang up my black moleskin notepad (last used on the summit of Snowdon, above left) and give up on travel writing once and for all. The reason? The man who brought us mistletoe and wine is steaming in on my patch.
Yes, that's right. Sir Cliff is one of the writers featured on Simon Seeks, the new travel website dominating the headlines today. The new venture from Simon Nixon, who founded his multi-million-pound Moneysupermarket business in Chester before moving it to North Wales, works on a revenue-sharing model of user-generated content.
I've so far politely declined the lure of Simon Seeks and have major reservations about whether it would pay. Others clearly share these reservations. Some freelance colleagues are dipping a toe in the water but worried about the long-term repercussions on the craft of the professional travel writer.
Sir Cliff's travel-scribing debut, a piece about his love of Barbados, is more notable for its cringe-inducing use of exclamation marks than its jaw-dropping literary merit but, hey, he'll get the hang of this travel writing lark. Give the young lad a chance.
As will, no doubt, that bloke who used to play guitar in Toploader. He did Dubai in a weekend apparently. Huzzah.
So join us at 7.45am this Tuesday. I'll at least get one in before Sir Cliff muscles in on this too.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Where is Chester's independent spirit?

Grim reading this weekend for Visit Chester & Cheshire. The story, High Street: High Noon, published in Saturday's Telegraph magazine, painted a grim picture of life in the Roman, walled city. Empty shops, shady men with flyers for lapdancing clubs and even the dark spectre of Mrs Thatcher. Ugh.
There wasn't much comfort to be found in the words of writer Mick Brown, nor in the statistics rolled out to illustrate the claim that Chester, with its dependence on tourism, retail and financial services, is particularly vulnerable to the dreaded credit crunch.
Try this one for size: 'In the Oxford Economics Index of Vulnerability, Chester ranked third in the country, behind the City of London and the London borough of Tower Hamlets.'
The publication of this piece makes for particularly unfortunate timing given today's announcement that Virgin Trains are offering discounted fares to boost visitor numbers to Chester and Cheshire.
But are things really so bad? I've just walked around the centre of Chester and, while there are still plenty of empty shops - as there are in any high street right now - there are also lots of businesses apparently weathering the recession.
So how does Visit Chester & Cheshire respond to the piece? And, while the owner of the shop Ancient Worlds is clearly not happy with his lot, what about the other independent shopkeepers and restauranteurs out there?
Places such as deli Joseph Benjamin, which featured in the Taste Cheshire food trail I covered for the Observer a few weeks back.
Is Chester becoming a homogenised destination of bland chain shops, or does it still retain a special allure, notably for its retail offer?
Let's hear your thoughts. Post your comments below.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Blackpool mon amour

Blackpool gets a pretty bad rap and is clearly keen to reinvent itself. As is the North West Development Agency (NWDA), who recently funded a promotional short film, J'aime la Tour.
   The film takes a deliberately alternative look at the classic British kiss-me-quick resort, highlighting its attractions to French visitors given current currency fluctuations in the Eurozone. 
   Clearly the idea was a success on its launch day with acres of press coverage and the head of tourism interviewed across TV channels. Last time I checked, the film had been watched over 54,000 times on YouTube.
   But not all the coverage was positive, notably a scathing blog from the Mail on Sunday, which suggested that Blackpool should be concentrating on its core market, namely Brits on seaside family hols, not French visitors looking for Vegas sur la mer.
   Having spoken subsequently to people involved, I get the feeling that this was purely a talking-point exercise and there's nothing to substantiate the French angle. 
   Likewise I spoke to several travel editors about this. Their feeling? This was a news story, it's over and there's nothing in it for the travel sections.
   So, here's my question: while the short-term benefit to Blackpool in terms of profile is undeniable, what is the longer-term impact at a time when many Brits are thinking about taking holidays closer to home.
   Does J'aime la Tour sell Blackpool as a place to rediscover or alienate a key audience? Post your comments here and join the conversation.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

First past the post in Chester

Beware of red-wine hangovers around Cheshire today. The annual Visit Chester & Cheshire Awards were held last night at Chester Racecourse.
   The big winner on the night with a hatrick of gongs was Carden Park, the hotel golf resort and spa, namely Excellence in Business Tourism, Sustainable Tourism Award and Large Hotel of the Year.
   Celebrations too for Harrop Fold Farm, Macclesfield, with their third consecutive win, taking the B&B of Year award for their combination of winning location, accommodation and cookery classes.
   I judged the Small Hotel of the Year award and picked Peckforton Castle (pictured above right) as my winner with Nunsmere Hall a close second place.
   My reasons? Attention to detail, proactive attitude to new business and a strong sense of personality infused throughout the family-owned property.
    Did the right people win on the night? Post your comments here.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Cumbria without the crowds

Good news for the Lake District. The domain of winsome poets and hardy hikers takes second place behind Cornwall as the destination of choice this summer in a poll of UK holidaymakers.
   The report, published by the budget hotel group, Travelodge, is the latest to talk up the Great British summer of domestic tourism we're hearing so much about.
   But does this mean the rural byways and hiking trails will be full to bursting this summer? Is there plenty of Lakeland charm to share around?
   Maybe you know some hidden-gem Cumbrian hang outs that the coach parties still bypass and the tourist throngs still miss.
   Post details here and tell us all about them. I've got a potential project coming up in Cumbria and your input will be much appreciated.