Reinventing the TT for new audiences

Rob Callister MHK

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Department for Enterprise member Rob Callister, who has responsibility for the TT, felt the Isle of Man was prepared for the influx of visitors.

‘We’ve got over 30,000 visitors expected to travel by sea, which is only marginally less than 2019, which is really good news,’ Mr Callister said.

‘We don’t have the flight information yet but in 2019 we welcomed over 14,700 visitors via the airport, and that has significantly increased over the years from 7,000 about six years ago.

‘But absolutely, we are prepared. I think it’s fantastic we’re going to be welcoming more than 35,000 visitors to our island.’

After two years away, the TT returns with a number of new features, including improved medical facilities, a new fast-response vehicle, a digital red flag system and GPS system.

He added: ‘It’s been the DfE’s job over the last two years to strip this event down to its bare bones and to rebuild it, and there’s a lot of changes this year, probably more this year than there’s ever been before.’

Amongst these new components is the newly developed TT Plus app, which has been designed for people to watch the races live from their devices.

‘I think the new app will reach audiences we’ve never reached before and will potentially open this up to a worldwide audience,’ Mr Callister said. ‘It’ll be interesting to see how it’s received, we’ve got over 40 hours of live coverage across the event.

‘What we’re hoping for is it will get added onto people’s bucket lists. Once people come for the TT, they come back time and time again.

‘Most of the people who come to the island are from UK, Ireland, Europe, and Australia, so there’s so much more potential in growing this and reaching a new audience who will come and want to experience it.

‘We’ll see how it goes and what the audience figures are. It’ll be interesting to see how many people use the new app when they’re sitting watching it.

Instead of listening to the radio, people might watch the bikes go past and then watch the rest of the race live on their phones, so it will be great to see how that works out.

‘We’ve always got to try and take the event to a new level and reinvent it. I think this year they really have brought it back, having enhanced the experience, not just for visitors but the new audience we’re going to try to reach.’

Live entertainment is also something Mr Callister commended, hailing it ‘one of the best entertainment schedules the TT has ever seen’.

He added: ‘I’m incredibly grateful to private providers, local authorities and the government themselves for anything they’re doing to entertain our fans between the races. I think the Isle of Man is ready to have a party after everything it’s gone through in the last couple of years, so I think we’ll have an absolutely cracking event.’

However, the DfE member said he was concerned for the lack of bus services in the island, following major staff shortages in recent weeks, saying: ‘I’ve asked about making sure our bus service during TT is ready to go due to the amount of people coming to the island plus local people who will be heavily reliant on our them, our trams and our steam railway.

‘They have to be ready and they’ve had time to get ready.

‘I am, as a political member, worried and concerned but I’m hoping that the DoI can bring us an excellent bus service during TT.

‘If all those visitors come here and aren’t able to get around, it doesn’t make a good impression.’

In the House of Keys last week, Infrastructure Minister Tim Crookall said Bus Vannin would put on services with the staff it has, but is consistently short by about nine to 12 drivers. Around 130 services had been cancelled from May 14 to 24.

Meanwhile, despite worries the island wouldn’t have the capacity to take on visitors amid Covid concerns, Homestay – a scheme in which residents are encouraged to open their doors to paying guests for TT – figures are back up to a ‘good’ level after low uptake earlier in the year.

As of May 25, 756 properties have been registered with MiQuando, the firm which operates the scheme, to offer accommodation across the TT and Manx Grand Prix 2022 events, with an average stay of eight to 10 nights. In 2019 there were 951 properties registered.

Mr Callister said of this figure: ‘That is really good news, especially with all of the concerns around Covid. There’s a lot more people camping, staying on farms or self-catering too.’

Despite the cost of living here having just rocketed to nine percent, the MHK still felt the island was ready to ‘embrace’ the event.

He said: ‘There is so much entertainment and I think a lot of people will come down and we will have two really good weeks. I hope it’s a safe event and everyone behaves themselves.

‘I’ve never been that big a fan of the TT but it’s something I’ve grown up with and I’ve come to love, and I get excited most years now because I’m involved in it.

‘Having missed it for two years I think there’s a real enthusiasm from locals we haven’t seen before. The course looks fantastic and all the other facilities too.’

Mr Callister added: ‘However, hospitality is a concern.

‘I think with coming out of Covid and Brexit, it’s been difficult, so we’ve got to manage with what we’ve got this year and hopefully in the next few months get to a situation where we can seriously look at welcoming people outside the UK to come and work in the Isle of Man during those events that attract a high number of visitors.

‘It’s not just restricted to the Isle of Man though, the UK is still having a problem too in getting seasonal workers to work in hospitality.’

Earlier this year, concerns also surrounded the number of marshals signing up for the TT and Manx Grand Prix but Mr Callister said over 1,000 have registered.

This is up from 750 in previous years.

‘I think 1,000 is a really good number but compared with 2019 there wouldn’t be that much difference,’ he added. ‘I think we need over 530 at any one time.

‘Approximately a quarter of the registered marshals are from the Isle of Man, 60% of our marshals are coming from the UK, with the remaining from the rest of the world.

‘With all the additional training and safety requirements, they have embraced it and understand rider safety is paramount to our event.’

The TT this year is going ahead without the historic scoreboard, a mobile structure, that was in use for about a century, requiring a large team to keep it updated during each race.

Officially incorporated into the permanent structure in the late 1980s, it was often a task undertaken by local scouts.

‘I know we haven’t got the scoreboard this year but planning permission has been granted,’ Mr Callister explained. ‘We’ve just got to find the money and hopefully we’ll have that in place for 2023.

‘We’ve got the temporary one coming in which will have a screen. It’s not perfect but it will do the job for this year and hopefully we’ll get the scoreboard in place for next year.

‘As somebody who’s heavily involved in the 2nd Onchan Scouts it is incredibly disappointing for me personally, but hopefully we have listened to what people have asked for during the consultation.’

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