A CAMPAIGN to make Henley a winter destination for tourists is gaining momentum.
A meeting held at Bix Manor was attended by more than 30 parties interested in getting involved in the Henley Partnership initiative.
Julie Perigo, who chairs the partnership’s business and retail group, came up with the idea following her introduction of the Living Advent Calendar last year.
Mrs Perigo, of Station Road, Henley, said she wanted to encourage visitors to the royal regatta to return at other times of year.
She said: “Lots of Henley businesses have long been working hard to attract visitors to the town and raise its profile in spring, autumn and winter.
“The impressive thing about these campaign meetings is that a variety of interested parties are coming together not just to share ideas but with the intention of staying together to implement them.
“In addition to accommodation providers and boat and venue hire, we’ve got speciality shops, caterers, pubs and restaurant owners and a number of the regional tourism groups.
“Even business and tourism students from The Henley College have taken an interest and are pledging their time.”
Ideas suggested at the meeting included marketing Henley to families and specific interest groups, such as arts and crafts, history and eco-tourism. The project team will also look at other potential non-summer attractions such as an autumn jazz festival, a craft weekend and winter foods market.
Karen Wade, who chairs the partnership’s tourism group, said: “Henley has everything for nearby, national and international visitors all-year round. It’s a quintessential, historic English market town close to Heathrow, London and Oxford.
“It has beautiful scenery, great shops, varied cuisines, sport and leisure facilities, festivals and culture and wonderfully atmospheric pubs.”
Town centre manager Peter McConnell said: “We realised from that first meeting that the issue isn’t that we don’t have enough to attract visitors in winter — we’ve got lots of fantastic things going on — but, as a town, we haven’t had a strategy and framework for getting word out about them or targeting the right audiences.
“One of the most important first steps is finding out and listing what’s going on already, then agreeing a strategy for marketing them.”
About 60 businesses and organisations in the Henley area are involved in providing venues, Christmas treats for the audience and sponsorship for this year’s Living Advent Calendar, which is sponsored by the Standard.
There will be 15-minute performances by singers, musicians, dancers and poets at a range of unusual venues in the town each night from December 1 to Christmas Eve.
Mrs Perigo said: “The 24 evenings are a lovely way to raise money for local charities and offer local performers a stage but the event is actually much more than that. It’s a wonderful way to bring together lots of elements of our town.”
Paul Mainds, chief executive officer of the River and Rowing Museum, said he was delighted to be providing a venue again.
“The ‘partnering’ concept is a very good way to get different organisations talking to each other, which must be a good thing for the town,” he said.
Henley Shutters will be hosting a performance in the Old Fire Station Gallery.
Owner Chris Tampsett said it was an excellent opportunity for businesses like his to show their commitment to the town.
He added: “I went along to some of the evenings last year, thought they were great fun for everybody and wanted to get involved this year.”
For the next stage of the campaign, a meeting between task groups about marketing and projects will take place on November 6. For more information, visit www.livingadventcalendar.co.uk