Helping your visitor economy thrive – Sherborne

Sherborne is a market town in north west Dorset. Achieving around 4% of total Dorset visitor spend, it had an aspiration to attract more visitors to the town. It has a wealth cultural and heritage assets and rich stories to tell. The aim of RHP’s work was to reinvigorate the visitor economy by engaging businesses, attractions and the community in collective working, to understand their visitor economy, develop their proposition, co-create new experiences and take forward an action plan.

Photo Credit: Arts Development Company, Dorset.

Our visitor economy health check indicated that Sherborne has a wealth of tourism assets but limited visibility to potential visitors. There is a vibrant business scene with a number of independent businesses, but they need to increase footfall and spend from visitors and locals to survive. There is a growing calendar of events and a wealth of cultural and heritage activities, but limited coordination between organisations and a lack of common themes to bring together different product elements and create a compelling reason for a visit.

Local businesses and residents in Sherborne were hungry for change when we started our work programme. Two workshops engaged local businesses and stakeholders in refining ‘what’s great’ about Sherborne and supported them in co- creating ideas about ways in which they could work collaboratively to better engage residents and visitors in all the town has to offer. A group of 22 local organisations emerged from these meetings as having the interest and capacity to drive change in the town. This group has now formed a self-organised ‘coalition of the willing’ and – with our guidance – has spearheaded the process of change in the town. The group initially focused on understanding current visitor types, spend and profiles. New perspectives stimulated ideas about ways in which visitors to the b

roader Dorset/Somerset area and residents could be engaged in spending time in the town. The coalition of the willing drove these ideas into a new and web site, that inspires people to not only visit but spend time exploring the hidden gems across the town. We supported businesses in reviewing their media footprint and identified ways in which they could utilise their collective resources to create a larger ‘voice’ for Sherborne.

Although only in its second year, the approach we have taken to working with local people is already delivering results. A new cultural festival hosted in Sherborne during the off-peak season was a great start, attracting 18,000 visitors. In addition, RHP has also helped:

  • The existing Tourism Forum to refocus and become the delivery mechanism for this more dynamic mode of working.
  • The new Sherborne visitor website has gained support from organisations across the town and a funding mechanism to sustain this (based on business contributions) has been created.
  • Businesses in the town have agreed on three common themes they will use to promote experiences to Sherborne, providing a more coherent image of all the town has to offer to visitors. Common images and language have been agreed and shared between organisations to support these themes and help the town become recognised for the assets of which it is most proud (and those that have the most value).
  • An uplift in visitor spend across the season.
  • Improved visibility of Sherborne via a new website that offers themed experiences and features the rich stories of the town.