The council is consulting with staff on plans to merge its various tourism bodies – including Visit Harrogate, Harrogate Convention Centre’s marketing team and tourist information centres – into one organisation in a move it says will help make the district a “must-visit” destination for tourists.
However, while Unison Harrogate has expressed support for some changes, the trade union has raised concerns that jobs losses could equate to “nearly 50%” of staff in visitor, cultural and museum staff, and those who remain will be left with fewer hours and “downgraded” roles.
Branch secretary David Houlgate has urged the council to “think again” on the proposals which he said would only worsen Harrogate’s visitor experience and also cause “huge reputational damage” to the district as a top tourism destination.
He said: “It would seem at odds that the new Destination Management Organisation has been set up to position Harrogate as an exceptional place to live, visit, meet and invest and yet at the same time it’s cultural and heritage offer is being downgraded.
“We have been through many reviews at Harrogate Borough Council over the past ten or so years and technology has enabled some automation and rationalisation but you cannot deliver museum services online, you need people in place to engage with visitors and know what they are talking about and if the full proposals go through there simply won’t be enough staff to do that.”
Mr Houlgate also said he believes staff who remain will be expected to carry out “hybrid roles” as tourist information and museum posts are merged.
He also questioned how the council will be able to deliver the same quality of services with reduced staff and has asked for any proposed changes to be put on hold until next year.
He said: “This will enable the focus to be on the new place marketing, event bureau and partnership and commercial development functions, so that these can get successfully established and embedded in their own right and staff can be fully engaged and involved with the process throughout.
“It will also enable the council to fully engage with staff in visitor, cultural and museum services too.”
Harrogate Borough Council revealed its plans to bring services under the umbrella of a new destination management organisation last September after a review found the authority was taking a fragmented approach to tourism and marketing.
The new structure will see Visit Harrogate – which previously operated as a public/private sector partnership and received £50,000 a year in council funding – integrated into the council’s operations.
Two new service areas are also being created – Marketing Harrogate, which will focus on bidding to secure new events as well as raising the profile of the district to attract more visitors, and the new Visit Harrogate, which will focus on looking after visitors when they arrive.
The Visit Harrogate website is also being rebuilt and will act as the “front end” of a new tourism database and booking system costing £165,000, the council previously said.
In a fresh statement, a council spokesman said: “The Destination Management Organisation (DMO) for the district of Harrogate will bring together the strengths of Visit Harrogate, the convention centre’s marketing team and the tourist information centres.
“This collaboration will ensure the best possible visitor experience and make the district of Harrogate a must visit destination for leisure and business tourists alike.
“This DMO will also work closely with Think Harrogate, Harrogate BID, and other organisations such as Harrogate Hospitality and Tourism Association to further strengthen the economic impact and support the district’s recovery plans following the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As part of the DMO being established, we will be ensuring we have the right roles across the organisation to help deliver these aims and provide best value for the taxpayer.
“These proposals are still being developed and will involve a consultation with staff.”