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Taking Bradfords tourism services online during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every sector of industry, but it’s no secret that tourism and hospitality has suffered more than most. The recent All-Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism’s report: Pathways to Recovery revealed 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 us too, 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 homes; 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?

Engaging over email

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 in, 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.

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 intuitive solution, 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 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 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 Bradford virtually

Virtual visits to Bradford via have soared – an increase of 108% in the past few months – despite physical visitor and tourist attractions keeping their doors closed, using 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 2000% 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.

Our social media accounts have seen an increase in the number of impressions – 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.

Time to Rediscover Bradford

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. As 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.

Rachel Oxborough is visitor engagement manager for Bradford Council’s tourism service

Photo Credit – Bradford Council

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