David James, Chief Execuitve of Visit Peak District & Derbyshire

David James, Chief Executive of Visit Peak District & Derbyshire, explains to Janette Sykes why the area's official tourist board is constantly striving for excellence

Meeting the late megastar Michael Jackson and evergreen cartoon icon Mickey Mouse may be some people’s idea of a claim to fame – but for tourism boss David James it’s all in a day’s work.

For David has met both, plus a host of other celebrities, such as iceskating legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, in the course of his customer-oriented work. Indeed people – from high-profile personalities to hard-working men and women seeking the best possible holiday experience – remain firmly at the core of his agenda as he spearheads a service-focused business that is worth an impressive �1.4 billion each year to the local and regional economy.

‘The figures speak for themselves,’ said David, who has lived in the picturesque White Peak village of Tideswell with his wife Melanie and teenage children Emily (16) and Ben (11) for the past 15 years. ‘Tourism is big business – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – it’s the world’s largest economy.

‘Research carried out on behalf of East Midlands Tourism shows that in 2008 we welcomed more than 35 million visitors to the Peak District and Derbyshire, and that tourism supported more than 24,000 full time jobs.

‘And during the spring and summer of 2009, the year of the “staycation”, our marketing campaigns generated visitor spending of almost �13.5 million – a 41 to one return on investment and almost half of all such spending in the entire East Midlands region.’

Visit Peak District & Derbyshire – which works with national and regional tourism bodies, all local authorities in the area and a range of business partners – was launched five years ago to stimulate economic recovery in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis.

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Since then its remit has been to strike the delicate balance between fostering economic success for the area’s tourism industry by helping businesses maximise their potential and profits, while improving quality of life for local people and safeguarding the environment.

Not an easy task, but one David feels equal to, and passionate about. Born in Oldham, on the fringe of Saddleworth Moor and the Peak District, he has a lifelong connection with, and love of, the area.

This, combined with his solidly commercial background, offers the ideal blend of skills needed to meet the challenge. After graduating in Business Studies, he began his career with Grand Metropolitan Brewery in London, before moving to the USA for three years to work and study for a Masters degree in Sports and Management Studies.

On returning to the UK, he spent five years in Sheffield, working as Commercial and Marketing Manager for such high-profile venues as the city’s Arena, Ponds Forge and Don Valley Stadium, before a spell as Marketing Director at Nottingham’s City Arena and National Ice Centre.

David’s progress southwards reached Birmingham, where he was Commercial and Marketing Director at the Birmingham Science Museum and IMAX, before the lure of the Peak District and Derbyshire became too strong and he joined the new tourist board in August 2005.

He now heads a 15-strong team based in Buxton, covering an area stretching from Glossop in the north to Swadlincote in the south and Biddulph in the east to Bolsover in the west.

‘It’s a very diverse, yet compact area, with a wide variety of scenery ranging from the rugged moors of the Dark Peak and rolling meadows and valleys of the White Peak to the rapidly changing landscape of the city of Derby and the leafy woodlands of the National Forest,’ added David.

‘My ambition is to transform the area into a world-class destination, and we’ve got all the elements here to achieve that: fabulous countryside; chic city shopping and culture; firstclass, locally-produced food and drink; an unrivalled range of outdoor activities and top quality attractions, including Chatsworth and a World Heritage Site.

‘Mix all these ingredients with our accessible and central location, right at the heart of England, and our excellent transport links and we’ve got an unbeatable recipe for success.’ Quality is a word that crops up frequently in conversation with David, and he is keen to share his quest to achieve the highest possible standards with as many businesses in the area as possible.

‘Quality never goes out of style, and it underpins everything we do,’ he said. ‘We want to work with quality businesses, and do everything we can to encourage them to raise their game – from becoming quality assured and doing relevant training courses to giving consultancy and business advice.’

Outside work, David is equally gregarious and enjoys a wide range of sports and outdoor activities, including tennis, football, golf, rugby, walking and cycling, plus going to the theatre, live music and cinema. A qualified Football Association Coach, he coaches Tideswell’s Under 12s Football Team, and coaches tennis.

It’s clear that, to him, people come first, whatever the context: ‘The tourism business is about people – our job is to make them happy and we are always wanting to raise the bar. If you have a good experience, you go and tell other people about it – and that’s the best kind of marketing there is.’

For further details about Visit Peak District & Derbyshire, its industry focused initiatives and campaigns, see www.visitpeakdistrict.com

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