John Heeley obituary | Travel


My friend and colleague John Heeley, who has died aged 65 of bowel cancer, was a leader in the development of tourism in some of the UK’s major cities, especially in Sheffield. He started his career as an academic in tourism but switched to working in the field.

It was thanks to John that Sheffield introduced visitor trails, factory tourism visits, heritage plaques, and walking tours to capitalise on the city’s rich industrial heritage. He also prompted successful bids to host conferences and international events, including the 1993 European swimming championships and 1995 Special Olympics.

John was born in Parsons Cross, Sheffield, the son of Gordon Heeley, a footwear retailer, and his wife, Eve (nee Edmonds), a nurse. He was brought up in Wisewood and attended Malin Bridge primary, Wisewood secondary modern and Sheffield Central technical school.

He took a degree in sociology from York University, graduating in 1972, and went on to get an MSc in tourism at the University of Strathclyde. He then achieved a PhD in tourism and local government from the University of East Anglia, finishing in 1981. He worked as a lecturer in tourism at Strathclyde from 1978 to 1990.

Having established a successful academic career John took the step in 1990, at the age of 38, to move into what he referred to as the “real world” by taking the post of managing director of Destination Sheffield, a public-private partnership. Here, he led the transformation of the city’s thinking about its role as a tourist destination.

After nearly seven years in Sheffield he went on to perform similar roles in Coventry, Birmingham and Nottingham. He encouraged councillors, officials, the media and the citizens to recognise the wealth in their cultural and natural heritage. This experience brought him to the attention of a wide audience. In 2009 he became Interim CEO of the European Cities Marketing organisation and he established a consultancy, Best Destination Marketing, providing much sought-after advice for cities across the UK and Europe.

Toward the end of his career he returned to the academic world at Sheffield Hallam University as visiting fellow, and the University of Strathclyde made him a visiting professor.

Apart from city tourism, John’s other passions were for his home city of Sheffield. He also had great affection for Scotland and was a keen hill walker. He was a lover of literature and poetry.

He is survived by Alison (nee Gillies), whom he married in 1977, and their children, Stephen, Gillian and Jennifer, and by his sister and brother.



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