By Local Democracy Reporter
ESSEX County Council has set out a vision for its tourism strategy – and it doesn’t involve Towie.
Essex County Council is redrawing the way it markets Essex – and the £3.4 billion Essex tourism industry – to focus more closely at Essex’s wide ranging diversity.
Lisa Bone, strategic tourism manager at Essex County Council, told a scrutiny panel that stereotypes, including those popularised in Towie, will remain the default if they are not challenged through effective marketing.
Instead its new Essex vision to market the county is focusing on finding “a way to capture our many local characteristics, the things that make Essex unique and special, to inspire pride in ourselves and so bring visitors, investment, opportunities and new people to Essex”.
A recent study of families and millennials showed that currently held perceptions of Essex are often a barrier for visitors, investors, students and potential residents.
To build the case for a new strategic direction, the council has started a promotional campaign which aims at raising awareness of Essex as a place, highlighting its contrasting landscapes and diverse communities, particularly among opinion formers and influencers and “to challenge some negative perceptions currently held by those outside the county”.
Ms Bone said: “It is all about creating a strong narrative.
“If we don’t talk about Essex and provide a narrative then others will make something up like the media have done.
“We’ll always be known as Towie if we don’t give another point of view.
“We need a narrative to sell into the media.”
As part of its marketing campaign, 60 ambassadors were recruited to challenge the Essex stereotype including authors Martina Cole and Gillian Darley, sports people including Anne Wafula Strike the Harlow-based British Paralympic wheelchair racer and rally driver Nabila Tejpar, as well as Michelin star chefs the Galvin Brothers, and artist Elsa James.
Promotional events included one at King’s Cross station where calendars and local wine were handed out.
A film is to be launched in 2020 with a selection of ambassadors.
The year 2020 is set to be an important year to set this narrative when the county hosts a number of large events and festivals including the Mayflower 400th anniversary, the Beagle, Marconi 100, the Science and Creativity festival and the Thames Estuary festival.
Ms Bone added: “The brand values need to be what we are actually.
“What is our vision?
“The brand values need to reflect that vision and reflect what we have, otherwise it just won’t resonate with people and we’ll lose credibility.
“It’s really key to bring key stakeholders together to be ambassadors – it’s all about word of mouth and we need ambassadors to be going out selling the county.
“It sets out why people should come to Essex to live, work, invest, study and visit against other destinations.
“What have we got that is special to bring people to Essex?
“It’s really imperative we work together across the county to achieve this.”
The council says that “repositioning” of Visit Essex, to be more strategic and focus on wider place-marketing, will benefit other businesses aside from tourism attractions and accommodation providers, allowing Visit Essex or Marketing Essex and Essex County Council to seek investment from wider stakeholders such as transport providers, universities and large businesses across the county who see the benefit in being part of it.
Essex County Council wants to map out where the tourism hotspots are and where the business opportunities are and to undertake a survey to see what barriers there are for people investing in Essex.
Ms Bone added: “It provides a vision for the future. What is it we want to be known for in 10, 20, 30, 40 years time.
“It is really difficult for Essex in that we are a very diverse county.
“So it comes with its challenges but I also think that we look at the diversity as too much of a challenge and it is a real strength that we have so much.
“We need to build on that by building brand layers.”