Now that we have considered what cultural tourism is, and what type of visitors we can attract to Dorset, we now look at how we can bring together the cultural and tourism sectors in your town of city, to reach new visitors – for the benefit of both.

What can you do to start the process of bringing people together? 

First, let us look at the type of member organisations that may already exist. These may be a good place to start networking and talking about the benefits of working together. 

  • BID (Business Improvement District)

A Business Improvement District is a defined geographical area where a mandatory fee, or levy, is paid by all businesses above a certain size. This is then used to develop projects which will benefit businesses in the local area. Think of it as a pot of money that all businesses pay into, with that money then used for everyone’s benefit. Many towns in Dorset have BIDS – to see the type of thing that they do see here:

  • Destination management boards and associations 

Tourism towns will often have a forum or more formal group to oversee the branding and marketing of the destination. Arts, culture and heritage should be represented on these boards, as the brand of a place is created through culture. To get an idea of the types of people who are on such a board, have a look at these:

  • Chambers of Commerce

Another way for businesses to come together and work together is to become a member of the local chamber of commerce. Find out more about the Dorset Chamber of Commerce here:

How cultural and tourism businesses can come together 

Successful tourism organisations such as those above, recognise how important culture is to create the ‘brand’ of a place, and how it adds to the visitor experience.  It is an excellent idea for cultural organisations to turn this recognition into experience by demonstrating the power and excellence of the cultural offer. Here are some of the ways that the Culture+ Tourism project did it:

  • Cultural Canapes – West Dorset

In 2016, Dorset’s tourism sector was invited to a ‘Cultural Canapes’ event. Over the course of one evening a selection of visual and performance ‘canapés’ showed the wealth of culture from the local area/region available to visitors on a regular basis/throughout the year. 

The presentations were all by local professional performers and makers , and included music, dance, theatre, film, puppetry, crafts, comedy, heritage, storytelling and a supper of local food and drink. The event was held in a working brewery that was both a heritage site, part of Dorset’s food and drink offer, and a tourist attraction.  

The event gave performers the opportunity to promote themselves, and network with a new group of people. The emphasis was on a year-round offer, that was part of Dorset’s brand, and would attract visitors into the county.

The quality and diversity of cultural activity taking place across Dorset was well received by the local tourism businesses and created new connections and opportunities for cultural organisations to promote their offer to the tourism sector.

  • Cultural Canapes  – Food Glorious Food

The success of the first event led to a second later that year that focused on the food and drink products that Dorset has to offer.

The question was ‘how can we use food in Dorset to enrich the visitor experience for tourists and local customers?’

The morning was a traditional food market, with local producers who were invited to set up stalls and promote their product to local hotels and B&Bs. The afternoon was spent discussing how visitors thought about local food, and how could food be used to reinforce the Dorset brand, and attract people into Dorset?  

As part of this, an infographic of the food and drink sector across Dorset was created to show visitors may be attracted to Dorset through its food and drink offer. The event was promoted through the local food and drink membership organisation, Dorset Food and Drink

Food and drink infographic

At the event we collected case studies as to how local food and drink organisations operate and incorporated these into a toolkit that described how to tell a company’s ‘story’ in order to promote it. You can see this toolkit here.

The result of this event offered opportunities for food and drink companies to make new connections with the tourism sector across Dorset.

  • Cultural Canapes  – East Dorset 

The third event was held in East Dorset in 2017, in partnership with the Dorset Tourism Association, as a networking event for its members. Performers included musicians from Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; and three local festivals were able to promote their dates and offer. The event was held at the Sandbanks Hotel in Poole, in the east of the county, which was therefore able to showcase its own commitment to local food and drink.

This was a successful event that in itself was a partnership between the arts and tourism – Dorset’s Arts Development Company and the Dorset Tourism Association. 

The result of this event meant new connections could be formed in the east of the county between the cultural and tourism sectors, and showcasing how culture is a vital contributor to the visitor experience.

How we brought culture and tourism together in Sherborne

Sherborne, a market town in north west Dorset, achieves around 4% of total Dorset visitor spend every year. It has a strong cultural and heritage sector, including two castles and the famous Sherborne Abbey. It also has a vibrant independent retail sector. The town already had a Tourism Forum, and this group was used as a starting point for discussion.  This group was invited to two workshops, held locally.

Culture+ commissioned and worked closely with RHPLtd, a tourism consultancy that brought a strategic overview to the work.  You can access the slides used in the workshops here.

The project aimed to engage businesses, tourism and community organisations in collective working. To structure the project, the group looked at the visitor experience in three parts: 

  1. Pre-visit – looking at what attracts visitors to a place 
  2. During – looking at what packages and experiences could be formed for the visitor to enjoy during their stay
  3. Post-visit – testing how well cultural packages attracted visitors

From here, the group then created an action plan to increase visibility and visitor numbers, focused around a major Culture+ event – Dorset Moon. This was a festival event commissioned by the Arts Development Company to test the importance of cultural festivals to tourism, and which came to Sherborne Abbey in July 2019.

What we did first – pre-visit work

The project team started with a ‘health check’, assessing tourism assets and opportunities.

What Sherborne had:

  • Existing tourism assets, including food, culture, heritage and nature; in particular Sherborne Castle and Sherborne Abbey
  • A diverse range of businesses engaged in the visitor economy
  • A vibrant business scene, with many young independent businesses owned by local residents
  • A growing calendar of events
  • A generally good visitor welcome with positive perceptions of the town 

What Sherborne lacked:

  • Visibility of the visitor offer 
  • A comprehensive way for visitors to connect activities in the town and provide an incentive to stay longer
  • Footfall and spend from visitors and locals. 
  • Opportunities to present experiences to attract more and different types of visitors.

The Workshops

Local businesses from both the tourism and cultural sectors in the town attended two workshops. The first reviewed current visitor types to Sherborne and identified opportunities to increase spend from these markets and attract new visitor types. The group discussed ways in which businesses could work to engage visitors. They looked at how experiences were marketed, and how others targeted their communications to potential visitor groups.

Participants were then asked to undertake key tasks in preparation for a second workshop to be hosted some three months later. During this period they built a new website to showcase the visitor offer, foregrounding experiences and the stories of the town and its people.

They also launched a social media campaign, ‘#ILoveSherbs’.  Visitors are encouraged to feedback what they love about Sherborne.  This is promoted through postcards available from customer-facing businesses. 

In the second workshop businesses reviewed the strengths and opportunities of Sherborne as a visitor destination; and discussed how its marketing could be improved. A guest tour operator talked about ways the travel industry engages with destinations, which provided a ideas for the future.  The new website had built confidence that the group could deliver change, and the group agreed that Sherborne offered multi-activity experiences in a way that was immediately accessible for potential visitors.  

They group agreed that they had a new way of working together, and you can see examples of this in this video, with input from group members  The Eastbury Hotel, Sherborne Castle and Gardens, Sherborne Cottages and Apartments and The Paddock Project.

The group then had the opportunity to  create an action plan to work together to maximise the benefits from an arts event – Dorset Moon –  and use this to stimulate a new type of visitor engagement. You can read about how they did this here (link to case study). Dorset Moon showed that the town could cope with a sudden influx of visitors, and benefit from the associated uplift in spend.  Since then, the group has continued to self-organise, focusing on the way in which the town attracts and engages with visitors. A new arts facility, The Paddock Project, is an exciting new development for the town that again will offer new ways for businesses to work together.

What we will look at in the next chapter 

The next step in our toolkit, we will focus on understanding the brand of a place; how arts, culture and heritage assets in a town or region contribute to this, and how a group of businesses can work together to boost business. Read more here.