NICK BYE: Torbay's challenge is to create resort for 21st century
YOU really have to feel sorry for anybody trying to make a living from tourism in Torbay.
Half the politicians — and even some of the business community— hold their noses whenever the subject is brought up and give the impression they would prefer it if we could all be bankers or factory hands.
Those who claim to support tourism, which just happens to be the biggest source of private sector jobs in the Bay — 10,000 plus at the last count — generally have a nostalgic view of the industry.
They make marvellous speeches about saving every patch of grass, lavatory block and holiday camp, believing if we kept everything as it was in the 1970s, then folk will flock back to the English Riviera.
You then inquire how they will spend their fortnight off and you learn about the delights of Tenerife, the latest cruise ship they are booked on to or faraway breaks to offspring in Dubai, Singapore or Brisbane... which rather spoils their argument.
The honourable exception to all this is Cllr Michael Hytche. He once captivated the entire council with a speech about a coach trip to Minehead. He made it sound as though he had discovered the Promised Land.
And then there is the politics! Far from everybody working together to promote the Bay, I inherited a situation a few years ago when it seemed we might end up with more hoteliers' groups than hotels, all bending my ear with their particular tales of woe, as though their lack of business was my fault.
I can recall a splendid spat when one of our more successful hoteliers was literally barred from attending a meeting of one particular tourism association at a rival hotel by planks of wood placed across the entrance.
Torbay Council had been pumping £1million plus each year into tourism promotion, never mind the subsidies for the conference centre, theatre, beach cleaning and coloured lights. There was not much thanks for it.
All the while our tourism figures were falling at a faster rate than anywhere else in the south west. We had really lost our way.
Hence the decision to commission Carolyn Custerson and her team to draw up a fresh tourism strategy. This then paved the way for the private sector-led tourism partnership which became the English Riviera Tourism Company.
In a nutshell she brought (nearly) all the warring factions together and has delivered more effective support for tourism with half the previous budget. I only hope her mantelpiece is wide enough for all the awards she has collected. At the same time our tourism figures started to improve. There was increased confidence in the industry and welcome investment in new hotels and upgraded attractions... good things were starting to happen for the first time in 30 years.
Never in my wildest imagination did I think all this would be put in jeopardy by my successor in the Town Hall.
After all, the previous (Conservative) Tourism Minister John Penrose MP had endorsed this private sector-led approach as had the overwhelming majority of councillors. Indeed, it seems to me exactly how a cash strapped and innovative council should operate: working in partnership with organisations expert in their field.
The ERTC is one of a number of similar initiatives from my term of office now regarded nationally as a model of good practice.
So I hope Mayor Gordon Oliver will have second thoughts regarding his tourism proposals (or even third thoughts ... he first had a go at the ERTC weeks after his election in 2011).
As well as the merits of the case, there may be issues of conflict of interest given his history of involvement in tourism and his relationship with Linda Hill.
I seem to recall Gordon declaring an 'interest' and abstaining on votes regarding tourism when he was a councillor. I wonder what is so different now?
Of course, the Mayor does have a role in creating a place which tourists will want to come to in 10 and 20 years time. As part of the lucky Bridget Jones generation of 50-somethings, I am conscious many of my friends go on frequent city breaks, cultural (and strictly non cultural) trips to exotic places and take cruises on ships resembling shopping malls. Tastes change.
Other than for a few weeks each summer we are far too reliant on 'oldies' to fill our beds and although we shall never run out of older people, I fear the next lot (my lot) will have very different expectations to those we cater for now.
The challenge will be to meet those expectations and create a resort for the 21st century Indeed, that was the raison d'etre of the former Mayoral Vision.
Those should be the concerns of our Mayor, not a fight to the death over who will host another beauty pageant or possibly put together next year's holiday guide.