In the Spotlight with Go New Forest

21st September 2020

Categories: Our News

With a surge in visitor traffic and bookings and increased engagement with its Business Member network, it looks like Go New Forest’s Recovery Plan is paying dividends…

We interviewed Anthony Climpson OBE, CEO at Go New Forest CIC to find out more about the organisation, its recovery strategy and its plans for the future.. 

For those who haven’t visited, how would you describe the New Forest?

It is England’s smallest National Park and provides visitors with an inimitable ‘English’ rural idyll through its unique cultural heritage landscape and very special sense of place.  It has developed into an inspirational and unmistakable high-quality destination where visitors can escape everyday life and get really close to nature through the everchanging colours of the seasons and the spirit of its free-roaming animals, in unspoilt open and accessible coast and countryside.

What is the remit for Go New Forest?

We’re a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) which delivers marketing and leadership in the promotion and development of the New Forest as a destination. We also provide a very wide range of business support for our Members on everything from winning planning applications to connecting more effectively with the resident community. Our area of interest is based around the edge and within the New Forest District Council (NFDC) boundary, including the New Forest National Park.
 
Who is in the team?

As well as myself, we have a Board of Directors comprising 6 others, a Business Manager and a Digital & Comms Officer, so we’re a fairly small team.  We all continued to work full time throughout the lockdown period.
 
How are you funded? 

Through a combination of annual membership fees and print and digital advertising revenue.
 
How many businesses do you work with? 

We have 580 Members from the visitor and wider economy plus our key partners, New Forest District Council, New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England
 
Would you be able to provide an idea of what you spend on marketing? 

In the last 12 months we spent £2,400 on digital marketing and £4950 on PR.  
 
How have you adapted your destination site?  

To prepare for reopening we wanted to provide visitors to the site (www.thenewforest.co.uk) with a virtual visit so that they could dream of future holidays by virtually experiencing all the great things that make the New Forest so special.  A key element in our C-19 Recovery Plan involved re-engineering the destination website with dedicated C-19 related content, particularly on all relevant landing and product pages ie.  Virtual Events, Virtual Attractions, Business Stories, Takeaways and Online Shopping

We created an eNewsletter to boost exposure for these new elements and used social media to spread the word, including uploading and distributing business and consumer video and webcam content. This re-engineered Weekly What’s On eNewsletter has been particularly successful for distributing the new content. We’ve also published some new C-19 related Blog and YouTube content and produced and promoted a 30 second destination ‘re-opening video’ by changing the storyline and re-editing last year’s successful 'Escape is Closer than you Think' video. In addition we also used our monthly consumer eNewsletter to promulgate appropriate Covid-19 visitor messages.
 
We also created a dedicated Covid-19 page, providing current advice to consumers and travellers.  This page has recently morphed into 'Know Before You Go' covering the local message of Plan Ahead, Book Before You Travel and the Government’s ‘We’re Good to Go’ Scheme.

What offline engagement have you initiated for residents, Members and visitors (newsletters, discounts etc.)? 

Our Discover Guide had just been printed as we entered lockdown, and since the end of June has been in heavy circulation to both in and out-destination consumers.  We will soon be publishing our 2021 Go New Forest Card.

Are members renewing and have you offered any incentives or assistance? 

Our Membership year is from January to December.  Approximately half of our Members had paid at the beginning of the year. We offered a payment pause/instalment plan during lockdown and since re-opening we have had only two Members request cancellation of their Membership, with all other Members paying in full.  Interestingly, we have also gained about 10 new Members since re-opening.

Have there been any rays of sunshine or feel good stories or any genius ideas from your members?

During lockdown, a number of our businesses were extremely creative with takeaway food ideas and collection/delivery methods as well as repositioning their businesses to the local resident marketplace. Overall, the key ray of sunshine, as already mentioned, is the strengthening of the mutual relationships between Members and collectively as an overall destination network.
 
Are the businesses working more closely with you now?  

Definitely. Since lockdown, to date we’ve circulated 85 editions of our Member Updates, providing a detailed breakdown of relevant Government Guidance, information on any changes to how we are promoting the destination, GNF operations and content relevant to the new digital innovations previously mentioned. 

In addition, we have held around 65 virtual Sector Group meetings, where Members were able to access support from GNF and each other, as well as discuss and agree implementation of COVID-19 procedures relevant to each individual segment of the industry.  These meetings continue to take place. We have also received numerous telephone calls from Members to discuss various issues and concerns they may have. 

Over the last three months, we have received numerous emails from Members, saying how valuable they have found the Member Updates, meetings, and general support GNF has provided throughout the whole period.  A much closer working relationship has therefore developed both within GNF and between our Members, enacting GNF’s motto of ‘Stronger Together”. 

How have bookings for accommodation and attractions been going since the lifting of the restrictions – has the surge in website traffic translated into bookings?  

There has been a considerable surge in website traffic, with a big growth in sessions and page views:

  • July – increases of 52.6% in sessions and 67% in page views (737,918)
  • August - increases of 60.4% in sessions and 69.7% (887,654) in page views

In the first 8 days of September sessions were up 84% to 64,093 and page views up 88% to 175,274.  Traffic from London was up 124%, returning visitors up 103% and new visitors up 77%. One particularly interesting statistic is that since the 1 July, sessions generated by the 18-24 demographic are up 388%.  At every meeting over the last two months, Members have consistently identified the improvements in website traffic as being related to the exceptional levels of bookings and business they are currently enjoying. 

What do you think makes your site so successful?

We have a comprehensive in-destination business network which feeds into a clear Annual Content Plan.  This links to our increasingly effective social media channels to deliver simple, concise and alluring content, matching the interests of our target audiences. In addition, our ability to adopt and creatively respond to SEO guidance from Simpleview has proved to be extremely effective.

How beneficial is the SEO service that Simpleview delivers for your site?

The initial benefits were incredibly valuable and helped www.thenewforest.co.uk to grow almost exponentially over our first two years as a CIC. However, with success comes the problem of finding new ways to evolve search support to achieve the same levels of growth. Nevertheless, since then we have found Simpleview’s SEO support extremely helpful in exploring new avenues of growth.

Have you found that the government support schemes have been helpful, ie. Eat Out to Help Out?  

Yes, this was very successful for Members and we have just launched our own Eat Out 4 Less scheme as part of our Autumn Campaign, which will continue to encourage visitors and locals to eat out in the quieter mid-week days.

Are there any destinations which you benchmark against?   

No. It’s incredibly hard to find a meaningful comparative destination, both in terms of destination offer and geographic location. However, if other DMOs in the Simpleview family are interested, we would welcome the opportunity to connect.
 
If you had unlimited resource what would you do more of?

We would continue to do more to make better use of the Membership network and run a coordinated range of training events to take advantage of all of the learning points that have made themselves evident during the pandemic. The ethos of Go New Forest has always been to do as much as possible for as little resource cost as possible and this will continue to be the case. We are very reticent to bid for most pots of funding because in most instances these detract from our own aims which are so often inconsistent with the aims of the funding body. We would commission a lot more photographic and video content and purchase a bespoke Simpleview website model to allow us to better express the unique individuality of our brand.
 
What do you see as the main marketing challenges for this year?

Our biggest challenge will be to respond to the constantly fluctuating situation of local lockdowns and the wider Government guidance changes. We are currently focusing, as explained earlier, on the traditional seasonal dip in consumer interest during the Autumn and in early 2021.

Do you have any specific campaigns or initiatives planned for the future?

We’re now embarking on delivering a comprehensive Autumn Campaign to keep the momentum going. The key elements of the campaign are: 

  • Eat Out 4 Less discount scheme running up to our Food & Drink Fortnight at the end of November.
  • A Walking & Cycling promotion including a virtual two week Walking & Cycling Festival at the end of October.  
  • To maintain visitor footfall in our towns and villages, a Shop 4 Less campaign based around use of the Go New Forest Card.

During the recent round of GNF Sector meetings, it’s also been agreed to develop a Stay Away 4 Less programme from early November with the aim of running through (except for the Christmas period) to the end of March 2021.

At this stage we’re feeling cautiously optimistic about the future, not least because we believe there is plenty of additional added value and scope that will emanate from all the improved relationships we have worked so hard to maintain during the pandemic.  We are especially pleased that we have been able to secure a £15k grant from New Forest District Council to help fund specific activities in the Autumn Campaign. 

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