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Since 2013 we have been developing relationships with local businesses to promote the East Devon Way and hinterland of the AONB through our AONB Ambassador Scheme as part of a sustainable tourism project. Businesses that have signed up to our ‘Ambassador pledge’ in return a range of benefits. They are also identified on our new website promoting the route http://eastdevonway.org.uk/eat-drink-sleep . This is a handy reference site for walkers and visitors alike.
The East Devon Way is a 40mile inland route from Exmouth on the river Exe, to Lyme Regis on the Devon/Dorset boundary. Exploring the 11 diverse and rich landscapes of the AONB, it offers walkers a wonderful insight into this beautiful area. It also provides an alternative hinterland opportunity to the more honeypot coastline and national trail South West Coast Path.
The AONB team have assumed responsibility for promoting and improving this route in partnership with the route creators, East Devon District Council and rights of way department at Devon CC. This has involved developing a management plan and implementing a range of route enhancements, including interpretation and signage. Some of this work has been carried out through local volunteers and local walking groups.
We have been developing our Ambassador scheme with businesses across the AONB since our 50th year celebrations in 2013 and developed this further in particular with accommodation, hospitality and attractions along the route. We have also revamped the promotion of the East Devon Way through a new guidebook and a modern upgraded website presence.
We now have over 50 hospitality businesses and attractions such as B&Bs, Hotels, self-catering, inns, pubs, shops, museums, attractions identified along the East Devon way.
Since 2014 we now offer an Ambassador networking event in the off-season (Feb) to promote closer working and a further field event in July. We offer specialist advice and information to support these businesses and our wider Ambassadors/Friends. These events have been very well attended (30-40 on each occasion) and have strengthened our relationship with businesses and local Ambassadors. We have also seen local businesses proud to promote the fact that they are an AONB Ambassador through web sites and promoting the fact that they are Ambassadors.
Our increased activity on the East Devon Way has encouraged many to take the challenge of walking the route and with direct support we have helped to enhance and grow the Sidmouth and East Devon Walking Festival, which uses the EDW as one of its flagship walking routes in the ‘shoulder season’. In 2016 there were nearly 500 walkers on the 25 walks, two thirds of whom gave them a 5 star rating, and a further 29% 4 stars. The six East Devon Way walks in stages had an average of 32 on each walk and the new signs on the East Devon Way were much appreciated. 98% said they would take part again. A third needed overnight accommodation, of which 85% booked their holiday especially for the festival. 31% came from outside EX postcodes and South Devon confirming that it boosted tourism and visitors to the AONB.
We have also used the development of our Acland Award to reinforce the Ambassador scheme and promote the relationship between sustainable businesses and a high quality environment.
It takes time and resources to develop relationships with businesses. You need to adapt and pay attention to their needs and a close eye in what is a changeable sector with lots of turnover. We are still learning but we hope that the key to success is listening to those that are keen to work with you and use them as exemplars. Ultimately, we hope in return our Ambassadors and businesses will see value in supporting the conservation and enhancement of the AONB.
Links and further information
Quote from project manager
“Businesses recognize the value of the environment in East Devon in what they do. Finding ways of helping them to promote the area and the protection of the environment has been an interesting journey. We are proud to recognize their commitment to acting in an environmentally responsible way and look forward to developing our relationships further. “
Key search words: East Devon Way, Ambassador, Acland Award, Tourism, walking festival
Photo Credits: East Devon Way at Exmouth, Blackbury and Sweetcombe Holiday Cottages – East Devon AONB