As part of the virtual Black Country Business Festival, the West Midlands Growth Company (WMGC) brought together industry heavyweights from national and local organisations for two events, which explored the upcoming opportunities in the Black Country’s tourism sector against the challenging backdrop of Covid-19.

Black Country rocks

WMGC’s tourism session focused on the Black Country’s distinctive assets, including its recently awarded UNESCO Global Geopark status, as an opportunity for regional tourism businesses to collaborate and bolster the region’s international standing in the long-term. 

Nick De Bois, Chair of the VisitEngland Advisory Board began the discussion by highlighting the current state of the tourism industry in the UK:

“Our latest forecast reveals that inbound tourism spending is set to drop by 79%, which equates to a £24 billion loss to the economy”.

Nick explained that a second wave of the virus and consequent restrictions could see these projections worsen.

He discussed VisitEngland’s response to the unprecedented challenge and the importance of initiatives like Escape the Everyday, a new UK-wide campaign to encourage people to take a domestic break over the autumn and winter.

“The campaign hopes to inspire people to rediscover what’s on their doorstep within government guidelines - it will help to support the jobs and local supply chains that rely on tourism” 

Andrew Lovett, CEO at the Black Country Living Museum reinforced the importance of pivoting towards domestic campaigns, highlighting the spirit of local tourists as the lifeblood behind the scaled back attraction over recent months.

Chris Brown, Director of Tourism at Marketing Liverpool was able to draw on his experience of Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage status and the legacy from Liverpool’s City of Culture. Chris explained how the accolades benefitted the city’s marketing focus and transformed the perceptions of the area amongst potential visitors domestically and overseas.

Chris added that the UNESCO status had “aligned to all the events” hosted by the city and its critical importance to placemaking and attracting world-class talent to live and work in the Liverpool region.

Graham Worton, Keeper of Geology and the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark Project Coordinator at Dudley Council discussed the Black Country’s journey to UNESCO Global Geopark status:

 “The Black Country has a large number of unique and heritage features and sites of interest, ranging from the Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, to an 11th century castle and wildlife sites. The region’s UNESCO status recognises the importance of these assets and puts the Black Country on par with Geoparks worldwide”.

A virtual Black Country

In an event hosted by WMGC and Create Central, the Black Country Business Festival also focused on the growing impact of technology on the visitor experience. Atmos VR CEO Kevin Blair took the audience through a demonstration of how virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can be used across the region’s tourism settings.

From standing in a lion enclosure in Dudley Zoo to walking around the 18th century streets at the Black Country Living Museum, Kevin explained how VR can revolutionise and modernise the Black Country’s most loved venues, at a time where social distancing measures are impacting the physical tourism experience:

“VR offers a different layer of immersion to consumers who are continuously expecting more from their experiences”

He also explained how VR technology enables accessibility for disabled people by facilitating front row views of music performances, art exhibitions and theatre shows. 

Local support

Tim Luft, Innovation Lead at Create Central and Fiona Latter, Creative Scale-Up Programme Lead at the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) joined the VR event to discuss the support programmes in place for local businesses that are looking to get involved with tech and digital. Fiona said: 

“The Creative Scale Up Programme is the first bespoke business support programme just for the creative sector.  The Programme runs workshops for creative businesses around pricing, HR support, marketing support and intellectual property and we are actively looking for businesses that are interested in VR technology to collaborate on future projects”.

Tim explained the role of Create Central in facilitating collaboration between creative companies and all other sectors. He explained how Create Central works with the creative industries - specifically across the West Midlands – to help provide the ecosystem and environment to both encourage creative companies to set up, locate and develop in Birmingham:

“These kinds of creative programmes are critical to supporting the long-term resilience and recovery of so many industries, including tourism – they can make a real difference” 

Find out more…

To watch the events in full please click the links below:
•    Bringing your business alive online: Understanding VR
•    The Black Country Rocks: International tourism opportunities for the region

To find out more about the visitor experiences available in the Black Country, visit MakeitWM

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