Yorkshire may be the host of next year’s Tour de France Grand Départ and officially the third nest holiday destination in the work, but what is it that makes ‘God’s own country’ so special? Elly Earls talks to those setting the tone of Yorkshire’s hospitality
Yorkshire made the headlines last month when it was named the third best holiday destination in the world. This accolade came barely a month after Yorkshire was voted European destination 2013 at the World Travel Awards, beating cities including Paris, Barcelona and Edinburgh – cities that also lost to Yorkshire in the battle to host next year’s Tour de France Grand Départ.
Lonely Planet said one of the key reasons Yorkshire ranked so highly was the fact that 2014’s Tour de France would set off in the county, but also mentioned its ‘rugged moorlands, heritage homes and cosy pubs’, as well as its wider food and drink scene. But for the operators who make Yorkshire’s ever-improving hospitality scene what it is, there’s a bit more to it than that.
You know what they say: the people make the place, and Yorkshire is the prime example. “There are many parts of the world that one can travel and meet welcoming people, but the welcome you get from the people of Yorkshire beats them all,” says Yorkshire-born chef Brian Turner.
Charles Merchie, general manager of the Feversham Arms hotel, located in the traditional market town of Helmsley in North Yorkshire, agrees. “Yorkshire hospitality is an honest and high-quality product delivered with a smile and attention.” He adds that the motto of the Feversham Arms is “Famous for our welcome… and much more”. Just like the county itself, you might say.
“There’s also a strong work ethic among Yorkshire people, which means we are able to recruit staff that will go the extra mile to deliver,” says Simon Heaton, owner of the Shibden Mill Inn in Halifax and chairman of the Great Inns of Britain. “At Shibden Mill, we certainly have a really loyal workforce and we can be confident in providing consistency of standards and service for our customers.”
“Our businesses in Yorkshire don’t want to stand still – they want to lead the way now more than ever,” says Gary Verity, chief executive of the county’s tourist board Welcome to Yorkshire. “Yorkshire pride is a powerful thing and drives us all to greater things.”
Combine this unique Yorkshire spirit with an unparalleled natural larder, and you’re only just starting to get to the bottom of why the county is so well-renowned for its hospitality scene. “It’s definitely a combination of factors,” notes Frances Atkins, co-owner of the Michelin-starred Yorke Arms, which was recently named third overall in The Sunday Times Food List. “Yorkshire people are very warm and friendly; they enjoy life and they like going out to eat. But they’re also very self-sufficient with their food.”
The huge variety of attractions and activities don’t do any harm either. From famous seaside towns including Whitby and Scarborough to the stunning Yorkshire Dales, the diversity of the county’s scenery is second to none, and that’s not to mention that it also boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other county in England outside London.
“It’s a hotspot of culinary talent,” says Peter Banks, managing director of Harrogate-based Rudding Park hotel. “The number of Michelin-starred places in Yorkshire is fantastic, and that drives the general standard up because of guests’ expectations. Everyone is trying to get to that level, which helps enormously.”
But it’s not just the many award-winning hotels and restaurants located across Yorkshire, which include Van Zeller restaurant in Harrogate, the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill- in-Nidderdale and The Talbot hotel in Malton, that make the county what it is – it’s the single vision all these establishments share.
“Understandably, the restaurants are all in competition with each other, but we also all understand how difficult it is, so there is a mutual respect and understanding for working together to make Yorkshire a wonderful place to visit,” explains Tom Van Zeller, one of Yorkshire’s brightest young chefs.
“Everything is connected extremely well in Yorkshire: from business to education to regional support,” adds John Horvath, group hotel director of Cedar Court Hotels. “The county has worked really hard to connect everybody together and have one message.”
Welcome to Yorkshire has been absolutely crucial to this, and it would be extremely difficult to find an operator in Yorkshire who would disagree. “There is a very strong collaboration in Yorkshire and this is very much facilitated by Welcome to Yorkshire,” says Ian Slater, general manager of the Sheffield Metropolitan Hotel and chair of Hospitality Sheffield. “They hold regular workshops around Yorkshire to promote best practises, share good ideas and cross-promote events within the region, as well as supporting business and helping them promote packages.”
The county’s tourist board has also been instrumental in winning the bid to bring the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, the world’s largest annual sporting event, to Yorkshire in 2014. And they’re certainly not going to let this fantastic opportunity pass them by.
“Yorkshire’s will be the greatest Grand Départ in the history of the Tour and it will put Yorkshire on the map as a destination capable of hosting world-class events in a world-class location, providing a springboard to greater things,” Verity says. “We are excited, we are proud and we are ready to welcome the world.”
If the excitement from the county’s proud hospitality operators as well as their absolute determination to prove Verity right are anything to go by, Yorkshire could even scoop Lonely Planet’s top spot come 2015.
“It’s so, so positive. Everyone wants to be involved, everyone wants to do something and there is huge excitement,” says Lionel Chatard, general manager of Middlethorpe Hall in York. “The image we’re going to send to the world is that Yorkshire is a world-class destination, a place with fantastic scenery and wonderful cities and towns. I’m expecting great things in the future.”
“Hosting the Grand Départ of the Tour de France is an historic occasion for Yorkshire and represents an incredible opportunity for businesses to benefit. The world’s spotlight will be on the county and now is the time to start planning if they haven’t already,” advises Verity.
Many businesses are already fully booked for the duration of the Grand Départ and well ahead of the game in terms of planning, with some even offering packages such as cycling tours, installing bike racks in their venues and creating special maps of the tour route.
Rudding Park Hotel, for example, has created the ‘Ride le Route’ package, which includes a luxury two-night stay, a cyclist’s goodie bag, secure bike storage and a screening of The Tour, The Legend of the Race in the hotel’s private cinema.
Let the race begin…
Keeping it local
While events like the upcoming Tour de France are great for boosting tourism revenue and promoting Yorkshire as a world-class holiday destination, the county certainly wouldn’t have got as far as it has without the support of its loyal locals.
“Yorkshire folk are the bedrock of our business; our customers, our suppliers and our staff,” says Gordon Jackson, chair of the Leeds Hotels & Venues Association and general manager of Thorpe Park Hotel & Spa.
“They are generous, honest and hard-working. They say it as it is and they look for value. It is with this in mind that hotels decide their products, menus and events.”
Indeed, nowhere else in the UK are operators more keenly aware of the importance of value for money. “Yorkshire people want value and this drives firms to provide better service and better quality for better value,” Banks says.
Innovation that provides quality and affordability is a key part of how our operators continue to grow and improve, says Jackson. “Offering deals, special offers and sourcing more locally all helps to achieve this,” he says.
“Operators are very innovative in working around erratic trading conditions, with very high peaks but low troughs,” Jackson adds. “Local marketing is the key to this, with operators offering a wide selection of dining opportunities, overnight packages and local events.”