Blackpool's recovery plan is a towering success

Blackpool’s tourism industry bounced back in spectacular fashion last year with record-breaking levels of footfall as visitors flocked to the Lancashire seaside.

Figures reveal a huge upsurge in visitor numbers over the final part of 2021, on the back of a two-month extension of the Illuminations season and the most ambitious Christmas campaign ever staged in the town.

Blackpool saw a 75 per cent increase on prepandemic levels of footfall in the last quarter of 2021.

More than 17 million people took a turn on the famous Prom between September and December in 2021, compared to just over 10 million in 2019. And the town centre attracted more than 12 million people in 2021, compared to about nine million in the pre-pandemic days of 2019.

Those footfall figures are supported by a record visitor interest recorded on the VisitBlackpool website over the extended Illuminations season, with all four months showing huge increases over 2019 - the last full year of tourism activity.

Little wonder council leader Lynn Williams has described it as a "total vindication” of the decision to spend £1m marketing the resort as Covid restrictions were lifted.

Those restrictions had a massive impact on Blackpool’s vitally important tourism and hospitality sector, with fears that it might take years for the resort to recover.

The importance of the industry cannot be underestimated. It is Blackpool’s economic lifeblood, worth £1.6bn to the local economy and it supports 25,000 jobs.

Now, on the back of the strong end to 2021, efforts are turning to ensure 2022 sees visitor numbers continue to head in the right direction.

Coun Williams says: “As we came out of the pandemic restrictions partway through last year, we were determined to put in place a tourism recovery plan that was of sufficient scale and quality to give our businesses the best possible chance of recouping some of the losses they incurred over two years of Covid disruption.

“What we now need to do is work with our partners to not just replicate what we delivered in 2021 but build on what was a remarkable campaign.”

This year’s Illuminations season will once again be extended by two months, starting on September 2, and running through to January 2, 2023.

And discussions are also taking place to look at a return of the resort’s highly successful Christmas events.

In February Blackpool Pleasure Beach began what it hopes will be a first full operating season since 2019. A spokesperson says: “The pandemic has seen an increase in domestic tourism and we plan to build on this in our recovery from Covid.

“We launch two new attractions this year which are an important part of our Covid recovery programme, a reimagined Valhalla, and ENSŌ – spinning seats which have been added to ICON.

“2022 is also the first full year of operation of our newest hotel, The Boulevard. The Boulevard provides stylish accommodation for business and leisure guests and will support Blackpool’s new conference centre.”

In another boost to the visitor economy, the £30m-plus Winter Gardens Conference and Exhibition Centre opened its doors in February.

It provides 2,400sqm of event space to accommodate 2,000 visitors over two floors, and when integrated with the wider Winter Gardens’ complex, creates an overall delegate capacity of 7,000.

It means the Winter Gardens can provide 12 distinct venues, all under one roof, offering a total of 4.9 acres of connected conference, meeting, events and exhibition space. The centre is set to host the Conservative Party’s spring conference this month.

Michael Williams, Winter Gardens managing director, says: “Blackpool is transforming with hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in new hotels, office space, attractions, transport infrastructure and the built environment. All of which will help enhance its appeal as a business and leisure destination.

“We are extremely proud that our new conference and exhibition venue will play a vital role attracting a wide range of visitors to Blackpool and enhancing the local economy. While the conferencing and events sector is competitive, we’re already seeing a healthy demand.”

The investment in the visitor economy continues to gather momentum. Work is ongoing to build a nine screen, 850-seat multi-media centre, which will include the biggest immersive screen in Lancashire.

Alongside cinema screenings, this as yet unnamed flexible leisure, business and entertainment destination – part of the £20m Houndshill centre extension - will offer conference spaces and will be able to host live theatre and other events.

John Sullivan, founder of operator MMC Cinemas, says: “This is a real statement of intent for Blackpool. There is really nothing like a British seaside destination and Blackpool is the queen of them all.

“We want to part of that renaissance we are seeing and are delighted to be part of the growing investment in the town.”