Wiltshire Council's leader says that the county is the worst performing south west county for tourism as they refuse to continue its partnership with company Visit Wiltshire.

Visit Wiltshire has been the official organisation responsible for promoting tourism in the county for over ten years.

But in its last budget, Wiltshire Council decided to not renew the contract to support Visit Wiltshire, which is set to end in March 2024.

Providing £75,000 to enable partnership working with VisitWiltshire or an equivalent body was among the Liberal Democrats’ proposed amendments to the Conservatives' draft council budget.

This amendment was refused at the full council meeting on Tuesday, February 20.

Peter Wragg, the chairman of Visit Wiltshire, attended the meeting to speak before the vote.

He claimed that it was “incorrect” for Wiltshire Council to suggest that Wiltshire is the “worst-performing county for tourism in the South West.”

He argued: “The last time I looked, we didn’t have a coast here in Wiltshire or some sandy beaches, so therefore to suggest that we should outperform places like Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, is probably a little unrealistic.

“Despite the other South West local authorities outspending Wiltshire Council in terms of public sector investment in tourism, we have outperformed the other destinations in return on investment, growing international staying visitors, growing sustainable tourism and extending seasonability.”

A statement from Box Parish Council was also presented to councillors which stated it was “not at all” convinced that any underperformance in domestic tourism would be addressed by transferring out of Visit Wiltshire.

It said: “Visit Wiltshire offers an extremely good, nationally connected website with links to Visit Corsham, Chippenham, Marlborough and the Great West Way.

“It offers attractive photos, a range of easy-to-use searches, up-to-date blogs and links to a superb range of events and activities.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gavin Grant said: “Tourism is a very important part of the Wiltshire economy, and most recent studies suggest that it is to the value of £1.5 billion to our economy, and indeed that some 29,000 jobs relate directly to it.”

The leader of the council, Richard Clewer, said: “Visit Wiltshire are very good at coming up with statistics, when I then turn to officers and ask for validation and verification, officers have consistently come back with other sets of statistics that are more in line with the ones that apparently Visit England and Visit Britian use.”

He argued that these statistics show that Wiltshire is “quite significantly” the “worst performing county in the South West for tourism”, financially generating less than Gloucestershire, Bath and Bristol, with low visitor numbers that are “getting worse.”

Councillor Clewer also claimed that Visit Wiltshire had not engaged well with Wiltshire towns and ideas such as the Explore Wiltshire app.

He reminded councillors of the £100,000 inside this year’s Wiltshire Towns Programme funding destined for a tourism strategy.
He said the current plan was to gather evidence and information before strategically working out an approach for tourism in the county.

He added: “We may well go out on recommission.

Certainly, the idea of Wiltshire as a council running it ourselves has never been something that we’ve said is a sensible way forward.”

In reaction to the proposed amendment, Conservative Councillor Dominic Muns said: “Where is the trust in our own officers?

“Where is the passion and pride in what we can achieve ourselves, without lining the pockets of a third-party organisation?

“We have clear evidence to demonstrate that our brilliant officers are more than capable of success in every area in which they operate.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gordon King said that “going it alone” and standing outside the infrastructure of a third-party will “not be good for Wiltshire.”

Ultimately, 28 councillors voted for the amendment, whilst 55 voted against.