The first step towards solving a problem is recognising that you have one in the first place.
In the past 10 weeks I have been publishing the footfall figures for Dartmouth in my Dartmouth Business News blog. They are percentage figures compared against both the UK and the Westcountry figures on an annual and weekly basis. Those figures have shown a year-on-year drop in footfall in Dartmouth of between 18 and 24 per cent. The latest report for the Food Festival week shows a drop of 27 per cent from the previous year’s figure.
I cannot publish the actual numbers, I only have permission to access the comparison percentages.
I am sure people would agree that these figures show Dartmouth has a serious problem with declining visitor numbers compared with the rest of the Westcountry and the UK as a whole, and for businesses in the town I suspect it will be a concern. At a time when the weak pound is bringing more visitors to the UK, I am concerned and feel that we must now work together to respond to this decline with serious action.
Who should be responding?
The town council strategy document states that it has a responsibility to oversee the economic welfare of the town as well as its environmental health and welfare, so I would like to see the council recognise this problem in its actions.
We have heard that £350,000 was spent on refurbishing the Guildhall and hundreds of thousands are planned for acquiring liabilities from South Hams District Council. If that kind of money could be spent on recruiting a town manager with a responsibility for professional marketing and promotion of the town, then the positive impact on the town’s economy would be significant.
Dartmouth Visitor Centre could help to support this action by making sure it publishes more direct measurements of tourist activity. It could start by communicating measures that make a real difference to the town, such as weekly footfall, destination website hits, accommodation occupation rates, number of Discover Dartmouth subscribers… These would all give a better indicator for local businesses of how the town is performing.
It could also harness the many young social media users in the town as a volunteer digital army with an objective to saturate social media with positive messages about Dartmouth and its attractions. This could be low cost and just needs to be organised by the DVC with clear targets for raising Dartmouth’s profile.
The district council is focused on its own money-saving strategy, which has been imposed on it by central government, so it is forced to make decisions that may have an adverse effect on the local economy.
The Dartmouth Chamber of Trade seems to have lost the support of Dartmouth businesses. I am not sure why that is. So now there is no organisation investing in marketing the town. That is apart from the individual businesses in the town and the activities of our festivals. Added this year was Woofstock, which set a really good example of what can be achieved with a professional approach by a few dedicated volunteers and a sound, low-cost digital marketing strategy. The web was saturated with information and brought 2,000 extra visitors to the town – not counting the dogs.
I have hundreds of blog visitors – and not only businesses. Using my blog, I can only keep businesses informed by gathering this type of tourism data, then communicating it effectively online. It is sent to 350 local businesses, councillors and individuals with an interest in the business activities of the town. Typically, 160 local readers will pick up my newsletters, comprising business owners, town councillors, district councillors and even our MP on occasion.
Our problems, though, are now obvious from these footfall numbers and it is time for all of these organisations to work together, gather the best marketing skills they can and implement a programme that will reverse this downward trend. Brand Dartmouth is just as fabulous as it was in 1999,
so let’s put aside personal considerations for the good of the town.
However, as I said early on, first we need to recognise that we have a problem before we will be able to solve it.
Dartmouth deserves it.
Swannaton Road, Dartmouth
Here are two comments received by the Chronicle since publishing the letter:
JR · 21 hrs ago · REPORT
Since moving to Dartmouth 9 years ago, the town has lost its allure and so many locals say that Dartmouth is dying on its feet. What does Dartmouth have to offer visitors?? in my opinion very little. The shops are mediocre, the prices high. When the sun shines Dartmouth looks beautiful but it has to be able to showcase all year. Some of the shop facades good do with a facelift also. It just isn’t the Dartmouth it was - such a pity.
Paul Reach · 0 mins ago · REPORT
What does it have to offer? Fabulous scenery, interesting independent traders, Art galleries (despite the locals negative opinion they bring in many visitors who do appreciate them) river trips, fishing trips, Fine dining and bistro style food. Great pubs. Fascinating heritage - birth of the industrial revolution, D-Day landings, active Arts center, leisure center, swimming pool, dedicated volunteer community and last but not least a friendly face. Is that not enough?