Readers of the Dartmouth Chronicle would have seen this week the two letters in response to my comments about the deficiencies in the Marketing of Dartmouth. I was trying to identify what the TIC should be focused on in order to improve the Tourism based economy of the town. Unfortunately rather than discuss my suggestions in a constructive way they chose to attack me personally again. I’m resigned to it now but for the purposes of historical accuracy I will address some of their criticisms. Particularly as neither of the writers were directly involved in the BID and can only have made their judgement based on second hand information. I am actually the only person who was there and know everything that happened during the BID project.
Here is the first letter:
Business columnist Paul Reach deplores the apparent reduction in commercial activity in Dartmouth over the past few years.
He must be aware that this change is similar to those in many towns in Britain today, especially in coastal areas. Internet shopping and different holiday destinations may be responsible.
The Dartmouth Business Improvement District plan, which might have helped reverse this trend, failed due to poor management on Mr Reach’s watch.
A majority of the town’s businesses as a result voted to disband the BID, losing Dartmouth hundreds of thousands of pounds that could have been invested in promoting the town to potential visitors.
While it existed, the BID declined to support the visitor centre, a project aimed at helping the town’s economy, but subsequently underwritten by the same town council that he derides.
A business forum is currently arising, phoenix-like, from the BID’s ashes. We wish it well.
Cllr Richard Cooke
So lets address Richards points first.
Firstly of course I understand that there is a global shift in retail habits over the whole UK but that doesn’t stop us promoting the town to make sure that those who do continue to like the high street experience come to Dartmouth in preference to Kingsbridge or Totnes for instance. If its due to other holiday destinations then that is an argument for increasing our marketing activities. The arrival of Costa is a good sign as it means they believe they can perhaps improve the town center experience to draw more people into the town. People love to meet and socialise rather than just shop and those town centers that recognise this and create the sort of experience that people are looking for will succeed and buck the trend.
The Dartmouth Business Improvement plan which definitely would have helped reverse this trend was being fully implemented by me as Chair, until after only 6 months in the role I was voted out of the Chair by the Board and subsequently forced to resign from the Board completely. I had threatened to resign if I could not get more help with critical tasks from other board members, but withdrew that threat at the Board meeting. However the Board decided to replace me as chair anyway, something I will always regret. The new Chairman diluted the marketing plans we had put in place and from then on the BID board reverted to what Dartmouth usually does and went for short term tactical, such as seagull scaring, new notice board for the Dartmouth Green Partnership, rather than long term strategic activities . There was no follow up and consolidation of the three year strategic marketing plan we had agreed as a board in cooperation with our marketing agency Chaos, one of the leading destination Marketing agencies in the UK. So for a year and a half before it closed I had no involvement in the BID, and its subsequent decline was not ‘on my watch’ as you put it. The businesses voted to close the BID Company, not the BID, and the reason was because they had failed totally to deliver on our promises in the Business Plan. You the council voted for the BID to continue but with a new management team in place.
You say the BID declined to support the visitor center. You must therefore be unaware that the BID invested over £20,000 in updating the TIC website and at least another £40,000 in promoting that website and driving digital traffic to it. The TIC itself reported a 30% increase in their traffic during the period of the railway platform advertising campaign, but the following year most of the marketing plans that were agreed before I left the Chair were abandoned. So you are very wrong to say the BID did not support the visitor center, they plowed buckets of levy payers money into the TIC.
What Business Forum is rising from the ashes? I started the Dartmouth Business Forum in 2012 out of the old collapsed Dartmouth Chamber of Trade and Business and since leaving the Forum chairman’s position ( Articles of Association state you cannot serve more than three years in the Chair) the Forum has reverted to its old name again and the website has been taken down. There is now no communication coming out to members at all, except Facebook and so this is another voice that is failing to represent the interest of Dartmouth businesses as it should. I wish it success like you do but the signs are not encouraging.
Here is the second letter:
It seems that Paul Reach is going to be sharing his wisdom in the Chronicle on a regular basis. In his latest column, he claimed to respond to my challenge to tell us all what he would do to solve Dartmouth’s problems. But he doesn’t actually say much, does he?
Apparently we need a “strategic plan” and to tell the world how fabulous Dartmouth is. Could we have a bit more detail, Paul?
Marketing the town may be a good idea, but if the town council doesn’t safeguard vital amenities, such as parks, toilets and the leisure centre, there won’t be much to market. I think it may be town councillors and not Paul who have got their priorities right.
Paul devotes much of his article to a claim that the flow of visitors to Dartmouth is collapsing, but he provides no support for this case. He says we have less than 50 per cent of the visitors we had eight years ago. Where is the evidence for this statement?
It certainly doesn’t feel that way in the holiday season and on many off-season weekends too.
Another interesting one from someone who is perhaps not familiar with what the BID was all about. the Strategic Plan Tim is the 5 year plan the 15 person BID team put together over a consultation period of over 11 months. It involved face to face and written discussions and surveys with over 160 Dartmouth businesses, 7 business meetings and is still today the best view you can get of what Dartmouth businesses want to see done to improve their business prospects. If you missed it I will publish it here on my website so you can read it. I think it is pretty comprehensive.
If you think there is nothing to market without the parks and amenities then you must have your eyes closed. Dartmouth is all about its beautiful settig on the river Dart, its heritage, its coastal walks, its independent traders, its fabulous food offering. and so on its not about buildings or toilets (which cost 20p) and its not about a £350,000 investment in the Guildhall which in my view deserves that wonderful phrase “polishing a turd”. Dartmouth has a lot more to offer than you realise if that is your view.
Where is the footfall evidence? Take a look at the footfall chart I published last Friday, is that not clear enough? This is a chart I published regularly on the Business Forum website to keep businesses informed but that site has now been taken down so this information will not be available anywhere else It may look busy at times but unless you actually measure footfall, as the BID was doing in two locations until it was closed, then you cannot judge the real numbers. I admit its only Lower street and its not very scientific but its all we’ve got. The TIC measure footfall through their visitor center doors but I have never seen those numbers published anywhere. I agree it feels busy here at times, and Easter was above expectations I believe, but this is more likely down to external factors such as the Euro exchange rate reducing the number of people going on overseas holidays. I will publish the chart again here.
The information is available Tim, and I plan to gather more Springboard footfall stats from other locations so we can benchmark our performance. I will be publishing something on this site as soon as I have the figures.
I respect your right to an opinion on this Tim but please check your facts before you go public.
Counter to these letters I can inform readers that I have now been stopped in the street at least 5 times to congratulate my efforts in debating the important subject of Dartmouth’s economy.