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Case study: Hidden Lakeland

When Tracey Gannon returned to the UK after living in Japan, she saw an opportunity to start her own business. 

Hidden Lakeland provides individual and small group sustainable tours for Japanese visitors travelling to the Lake District.

They discover hidden gems by bus, boat, train and on foot, avoiding the crowds and the obvious tourist honeypots, experiencing bespoke personal tours dedicated to their tastes and interests.

Tracey said: “I lived, studied and worked in Japan for more than 20 years, teaching sustainability and environmental communication to graduate students at Kyoto University for 14 years.

“The Lake District featured prominently in the classes I taught owing to its literary connections and as the birthplace of the National Trust.”

Tracey knew the Lake District well as she had family here. She launched Hidden Lakeland after relocating to Kendal in 2017.

“Years of exploring the area as a visitor gave me an insight into how visitors experience the Lake District,” she explained.

“I know not just what they want to see but also what they wouldn’t want to miss if they only knew it was there. Being a tour guide with that insight helps keep me useful and engaged – two things I loved about teaching.”

A good friend, who was also thinking about starting a business, told her about Cumbria Business Growth Hub. Together, they enrolled on the Growth Hub’s Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme.

The package of free support includes a three-day course on starting a business, one-to-one meetings with a business adviser, training, help with a business plan and membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

Given that Tracey had no experience of running a business, the assistance provided by BSUS was invaluable.

She said: “Everything I learned on the three-day course was relevant, from marketing strategies to accounting, to making a business plan.

“Seeing what needs to be done is the easy part. Applying it all is much harder and I’m still bringing in what I can when I can now.

“Perhaps the best part of the course was starting out with others, all with very different ideas, personalities and different outlooks.

“It was inspiring to see other people putting those ideas into practice and it prompted me early on to remember to keep myself open to others in starting out in the otherwise lonely work of setting up a business.”

She is full of praise for her Growth Hub adviser, Annie Weir.

Tracey said: “Annie kept me motivated. She gave me direction in firming up a strategy for my business and gave me the thing I lacked most, confidence.

“She also put me forward for other training that I wouldn’t have been able to access if it hadn’t been for BSUS.”

This included support in building website and courses in social media and digital marketing, all areas that were new to her.

Hidden Lakeland launched in 2018 and things were going well until the coronavirus outbreak brought the business to a halt.

English Lakes Hotel Group were promoting Tracey’s service to customers and  she was set to lead tours for Mountain Goat and the Japanese tour operator Miki Travel. Forward bookings were healthy including a 12-day sustainable tourism study tour for nine undergraduates from Tokyo University.

Tracey is not dispirited though.

She said: “I’m busy planning for the future and I’m blogging my way through the pandemic, giving followers of my website a way into the Lakes while the national park remains closed to visitors.

“I want to be ready to spring the business back out of hibernation when the crisis is over and get back to doing what I love – sharing the beauties of Cumbria and the Lake District with Japanese visitors.”

She may pivot towards domestic customers if air travel remains problematic.

“I’m extending my offer to domestic visitors looking to leave the car at the hotel and get around the Lakes on foot,” Tracey said.

“If we’re all going to stay home this year, let’s think what our Lakeland home means to us, what it has meant for those visiting or living here in the past, and, most of all, what meaning it continues to hold for those of us who live here, for communities who’ve watched their livelihoods concertina in the weeks since the lockdown.”

Find out how Cumbria Business Growth Hub can help your business. Call us today on 0844 257 84 50.

The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Sellafield Ltd., Carlisle City Council, South Lakeland District Council, Penrith Industrial BID and  Cumbria LEP.  The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.