Media Isle of Man catches-up with Deborah Heather, the CEO of Visit Isle of Man, a female leader driving positive economic impact through the Department for Enterprise, about embracing big opportunities for the island, some of the challenges in the tourism sector, and plans on helping the industry grow.

Tell us about your recent move to the island and new role leading Visit Isle of Man.

It’s been almost a year since I moved to the Island! Although I travelled regularly to the Isle of Man for work, I didn’t really have any clue about the breadth of what it has to offer. The role was just so interesting and inspiring and was something where I thought I could make a real difference. Since moving here, I can safely say the Island, its culture, its people, and its beauty has blown my whole family away. It has certainly surpassed all expectations!

How does your role on the island compare to previous ones?

It sort of encapsulates my whole career, taking a bit of everything from every part of my past experiences. I am very proud to have come from industry, so working forthe sector in this capacity is amazing. It almost collates the standards, the customer service piece through customer journeys and a customer focus, the commerciality experience through revenue management (which is all about profit before anyone asks), and the marketing, to envelop my whole career. It feels like the role was made for me.

What are the big opportunities for the visitor economy on the Isle of Man?

Fundamentally growth. However, we need to sort some of the foundations as we try and achieve that growth. Our visitor sentiment is really good, and we need to work on the customer journey to make buying decisions easy. We need to charge the right prices and optimise the experience throughout. Currently the sector is viewing the visitor experience - everything from quality, pricing, and value for money - through the eyes of Islanders. We also have a real opportunity to optimise the visitors that already come here, as well as accommodate many more.

How is the Visit team working to improve the Isle of Man’s offering as a destination for tourism and leisure?

Our initial project, which is ongoing, was to make ‘noise’ and let people know the Island is here. Most of our UK feeder markets aren’t even sure where we are so we embarked on driving PR and social media. Last year saw the biggest visitor spend in recent history and a reach of 5.8b through PR and socials, with 419 articles. Holiday makers are looking for the new and unexplored, so this is our moment.

How about the challenges for the Isle of Man as a destination?

Talking ourselves down doesn’t help. Somehow in a small community this gets amplified and whatever is frustrating the Islanders is visible to the world. When visitors get here, they see the Island in an incredible light. As a newbie I’m still blown away by the Isle of Man and its people. In a practical sense we need to support the industry to modernise, commercialise and digitalise. Most of the tourism ecosystem is made up of SMEs (small & medium enterprises), if not micro businesses, which play a massive part in the visitor experience. However, life is tough on the ‘floor’ and resources can be short. So, it’s important to inspire the industry and operators with best practise.

How would you describe life living and working on the Isle of Man as a woman in a senior leadership role?

I’ve been welcomed with open arms, and I can see real opportunity for women on the Island. As women, we’re possibly not grabbing hold of opportunities enough, to be honest. There is something about modernising the working environment in the way that the world is. Ensuring that workplaces are spaces for women to develop and be welcomed. As a mother of two daughters, being a role model has always been a focus for me. I want them and all girls and women to believe in themselves. I feel proud to be a woman in a senior leadership role and hope I can lead by example and inspire women on the Isle of Man to believe these types of roles are achievable for them.

What’s your favourite thing about living on the island?

I think my favourite thing is the real sense of Manx spirit and the incredible Manx landscape. It’s amazing to live in the only whole nation UNESCO Biosphere, and that’s something I can’t say enough. Manx spirit feels interwoven into everything that makes up the Isle of Man; its people, its businesses, its food and drink offering, even its folklore! I feel very lucky to have landed on this hidden gem.