Chris Baron looks at efforts being made to double the size of our visitor economy

The visitor economy is one of the top three priority sectors in Greater Lincolnshire and our Local Enterprise Partnership has set itself the challenge of doubling the value of the visitor economy by 2020. So how are we doing so far? It takes a while for the figures to come through so the 2016 figures won't be received until August, but in 2015 the value of the visitor economy in Greater Lincolnshire was just over £2 billion, having grown in value by £350 million in the four years since the LEP was set up.

The visitor economy is currently buoyant, but leaving nothing to chance our approach has been first to highlight how the needs of visitors are considered and woven into broader economic development activity, and second to identify activity that will have a positive effect.

Examples of this approach include: measures to protect a rapidly eroding coast that is a core product for the visitor; transport plans that support housing development but also improve access to visitor hotspots; water management initiatives such as the Boston Barrier that will produce new visitor-oriented activities; a transport hub in Lincoln facilitating access into and around the county for residents, commuters and visitors; a place marketing project designed to raise the profile of Lincolnshire as a place to live, work, study and invest as well as visit; and investment in core products such as Lincoln Castle to galvanise investment in our heritage assets.

The LEP has been working with local councils across Greater Lincolnshire on future priorities and delivery arrangements and much progress has been made. Good market intelligence is critical to good decision-making, whether that be on investment, promotions or product development, and essential in ensuring that Greater Lincolnshire becomes more customer-focused.

Existing information has been gathered and analysed to see where more research is required. This information was shared with tourism businesses at the recent leaflet swap at Woodhall Spa.

Now the LEP has set up a visitor economy sector forumwhich will meet for the first time in May. The LEP already has such boards for manufacturing, agri-food, innovation and financial intermediaries; each is private sector-led and is used to guide sector development.

The links between tourism and culture are obvious and ideally the planning of both should be mutually supportive; aspects of culture provide some of the most compelling reasons to visit a place and tourists often provide the economic rationale for staging significant cultural events. An example of where the two have met most recently is Magna Carta's 800th anniversary and the events that celebrated Lincoln’s place in those national celebrations.

Success breeds success and the lessons learnt were rolled out in 2016 when the Poppies installation visited Lincoln Castle and 530,000 people saw them over a three-month period.

The £22m investment at Lincoln Castle has enabled these prestigious events to take place, none more so than this summer when Domesday Book, which is rarely on display and has never left London before, will be exhibited in Lincoln. Domesday Book is the single most important item in our national archive and it records the Lincolnshire of 1086 in meticulous detail. It will sit beside Lincoln's 1215 Magna Carta and is sure to be a major draw to the county.

There is still a shortage of visitor accommodation in Lincolnshire, but there are positive signs of growth here and several visitor attractions are seeing major investment, including the International Bomber Command Centre which opens later this year.

So while the planned growth looks challenging, it is leading to the investment in Greater Lincolnshire's cherished assets and opening them up to more people, because sometimes it's good to show off!

Chris Baron has been Resort Director at Butlins in Ingoldmells since 2000. He joined the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership in 2011 as the representative for the visitor economy and the coastal strip in general. He is also the Chair of the East Lincolnshire Destination Management Organisation and a member of East Lindsey Local Strategic Partnership.