It’s no good shouting about Jersey’s charms if the reality doesn’t meet expectations
OH dear! Here we are about to start the 2018 summer season and our special Island is still suffering from a needlessly tired and messy public realm. Our beauty spots are marred by prominent Eurobins, our public spaces are cluttered with clumsily made and pointless signs, too many shop windows are no more than bill boards for self-adhesive discount posters, and our surroundings offer too much street furniture straight out of a UK catalogue. Temps passé scaffolding had to be down before our visitors arrived. The idea was that we presented our best face to holidaymakers. Not anymore.
Save Jersey’s Heritage has said all along that it’s a dangerous game marketing Jersey’s charms with gusto if the visitor experience doesn’t match the expectations encouraged. And now that view has found support from none other than Visit Jersey’s own consultants.
Marketing expertise, which VJ clearly has in abundance, cannot indefinitely gloss over the problem that Jersey’s public realm and passenger gateways are not up to the standards expected by discriminating visitors.
We took a deep breath and made this case forcefully in our recent publication ‘This Realm of Ours’ – which launched the Jersey Evening Post campaign Our Island: Keeping Jersey Special. There was very little official reaction to either, except for a hurried effort to tidy up the shameful mess illustrated on the front cover of our book. Even those civil servants sympathetic to our cause were defeated by the dead hand of States’ bureaucracy. It took nine months to relocate the Eurobin spoiling the arriving visitor’s first views of glorious Portelet Bay. At this rate, we thought, it would take fifty years to restore the public realm.
Of course, some may have felt – who are Save Jersey’s Heritage to sound off about such things? What do they know about tourism? Now, our views have been completely and utterly vindicated. The Colliers report into the Island and its visitor attractions, written by David Geddes and Dominic Lewis, includes a ringing endorsement of all we have said – and more besides – concluding: ‘We think that a worthwhile project for Visit Jersey to engage in would relate to how the public realm could be made more distinctly Jersey (as opposed to UK) and how it could be tidied up and, where possible, less cluttered.’
But alas they can’t so they won’t. We met Visit Jersey’s chief executive, Keith Beecham, and he made clear that they see themselves as a marketing organisation. They have been told by politicians that lobbying for change will be frowned upon. Indeed, VJ was created by the States because it was felt that the old Tourism Department was involved in too many aspects of tourism – from marketing to arranging the deckchair concessions.
Now we see that carving up control of the industry may not have been such a smart move. The politicians elected on Wednesday should ask why the Shadow Tourism Board (which brought Visit Jersey into being) ignored the advice of its own consultants that the ‘product’ simply wasn’t up to scratch. The Shadow Board’s report to the Economic Development Minister in July 2014 set out a key aim: ‘[To] ensure that our product is aligned to the current and future expectations of any new markets.’ Indeed, ‘product development’ was listed by the report as the second of three principal areas of strategic focus. Why was it ignored?
Our best hope lies with the Environment Minister. At a meeting last week Deputy Steve Luce expressed support for our aims. He explained that, in Charlie Parker’s Brave New World, the Infrastructure Department, which is to blame for most of the damage done to the public realm, is to be merged with Environment. We can only hope this will lead to a more holistic approach.
But we can’t wait another year for something to be done. We have identified the problem. We have proposed bold solutions involving local artisans. We even identified possible sources of finance. The rebirth of Jersey’s public realm could start tomorrow.
Full marks to Visit Jersey for commissioning the Colliers report, but clearly their marketing expertise will be wasted if States bodies with responsibility for the appearance and character of Jersey’s townscape, countryside, gateways and beaches don’t mend their ways – and fast.
It need not be expensive but it is becoming urgent.
When researching his report, David Geddes of Colliers met Save Jersey’s Heritage. He told us that he had read This Realm of Ours and agreed with every word. Mr Geddes was pleased to be back in Jersey. He had last been here ten years ago to write a report about…the public realm.
‘What happened to it?’ we asked. ‘It was put on a shelf and gathered dust’ he said.
We are determined, actually we demand, that his latest report should not suffer the same fate.