Coast is clear over destination of travel

By Ged Henderson

18 Sep 2023

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Blackpool’s Golden Mile is shining even more brightly thanks to the latest multi-million pound investments pouring into Britain’s favourite resort town.

Entertainment giant Merlin has ploughed £2.3m into creating The Gruffalo and Friends Clubhouse, which has been designed for family fun.

The indoor play adventure features six of Julia Donaldson’s and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved children’s stories. Aimed at families with youngsters aged under ten, it has been described as a world first and has joined Merlin’s seven other attractions in the resort.

Meanwhile, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, another of the major players in the town, has spent some £4m reimagining one of the park’s most famous rides - Valhalla, the UK’s wettest rollercoaster is back and has been entertaining thrill-seekers throughout the summer.

Both of these investments highlight Blackpool’s commitment to the continued development of its tourism industry, which is massively important to the town’s economic fortunes and for the wider county.

Almost 19 million people visited the seaside town in 2021 – the latest figures available - twice the number in 2020 when pandemic restrictions on tourism were in place.

Blackpool made up 40 per cent of all visits to Lancashire during 2021, with the resort’s tourism economy valued at more than £1.4bn, supporting in excess of 20,000 jobs.

The desire is also there to ensure Blackpool, rich in history and heritage as a much-loved seaside destination, is attuned to the needs of a 21st century audience.

Just off the Golden Mile, enabling work is underway on the Blackpool Central development – a project to create a world-class year-round leisure development on the Central Station site.

Heralded as one of the UK’s most important regeneration projects, Nikal’s £300m scheme is the largest single investment in the town for more than 100 years.

Once open it is forecast to create around 1,000 new jobs and bring in an estimated 600,000 additional visitors each year, boosting the annual spend in the town by around £75m.

Meanwhile, a £21m extension to the Houndshill shopping centre is well under way, including the Backlot Cinema and Diner, a nine screen 850 seat, 40,500sq ft IMAX ready cinema complex.

It includes one of the largest IMAX screens in the country with laser technology and IMAX’s 12-channel sound technology.

Work is also in progress on the first phase of a £1.7m programme of investment at the Winter Gardens. The Galleon Bar, a recreation of a ship from the Spanish Armada and which first opened in 1931, has been given a bar re-fit to accommodate more staff and to protect the heritage of the site.

And away from the hustle and bustle of the prom, Blackpool Zoo’s new £1.5m facility for big cats re-opened in time for the May half-term holidays. A regeneration of Abingdon Street market also opened its first phase in May, an artisan food hall with eight food and drink vendors. The second phase of new retail units offering fresh produce and handmade crafts is set to open in autumn.

Kate Shane, regional director at Merlin, says its latest investment adds to its “already strong cluster of family attractions” in the resort.

She adds: “We are incredibly excited to bring some of the UK’s best loved children’s characters to Blackpool.

“Blackpool is the UK’s number one family seaside resort and this latest partnership with a globally recognised brand will provide compelling new reasons for visitors to come.

“This significant investment further supports Merlin’s strategic growth plans, bringing further jobs and economic benefit to the local community and wider region.”

As well as investment in visitor attractions, Blackpool’s hotel renaissance also continues to gather pace.

Originally built in 2018 as part of the first phase of Blackpool Council’s regeneration of South Shore, an extension to the Hampton by Hilton, which opened earlier this year, has seen 74 bedrooms added to the original 130.

The hotel group says the new extension “will support Blackpool’s transformation into a quality year-round destination for families and business travellers”.

A Holiday Inn is being developed as part of the £350m Talbot Gateway regeneration of the town centre will open its doors next Easter.

The 144-bedroom hotel sits next to Blackpool North railway station and above a tramway extension connecting the promenade to its rail services.

Singapore-based developer The Fragrance Group has submitted plans for a new £30m hotel to replace the now-demolished St Chads Hotel, Lyric Hotel and Regency Apartments. The group is looking to create a four-star hotel with 184 bedrooms. It already owns The Imperial Hotel and the Lyndene Hotel in Blackpool, and operates across three continents.

Vikki Harris, Visit Lancashire’s director of marketing and partnerships, says: “Investment in hotels is on the rise. The big hotel developments also help position the resort when it comes to conferences in the new Winter Gardens conference centre. It makes for a strong proposition.”

She also points to the large amount of private investment being made, not just in Blackpool but across the Lancashire coast, including £50m being spent by family-owned holiday park operator Partington Group to create a new luxury experience at Windy Harbour in Singleton.

Vikki says: “It is a huge amount and it is brilliant to see businesses investing so much money and showing so much confidence in our coast.

“We have a strong story to tell and a year round offer. A lot of work has gone on in all the towns on the coast to create that.”

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