Festivals and events could fuel growth for Lancashire’s tourism sector

Attracting more high profile festivals and events to Lancashire could be the answer to boosting the county’s visitor economy, according to a meeting of tourism bosses.

The summit of hoteliers, industry leaders and professional advisers, heard how attracting more events would encourage visitors to stay in the county for longer and increase tourism spend.

Attendees at the Lancashire Tourism Roundtable, hosted by accountancy and business advisory firm Moore and Smalley, discussed a range of opportunities and challenges to the region’s leisure and tourism sector.

Ruth Connor, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, said: “A greater focus on events and festivals has led to a 4 per cent increase in visitors in recent years. Visitors are always looking at what’s on and things to do and in the longer term we need to identify further opportunities to attract visitors to the county. We have lots of strengths and assets in Lancashire and we are working on pulling this together into a cohesive tourism story to promote on a national and international stage.”

Claire Smith, owner of Number One St Lukes and President of StayBlackpool, added: “Events do bring people in and I’d like to see more large scale events being held in the region. We have Rod Stewart coming to Blackpool Football Club that will bring 25,000 people, compared to events at smaller venues. Events are what bring people from across the UK to the county for longer.”

Businesses present at the roundtable reported a mixed year in 2013, with many seeing visitor numbers up but overall spend down. Most are confident of a good year in 2014, but believe rising costs, such as the introduction of auto enrolment pensions rules could impact on finances.

Andy Townsend, chief executive officer of Legacy Hotels & Resorts, which operates the Legacy Preston International Hotel, said: “We’re expecting a similar turnover in 2014 but managing the cost base will be a challenge. For example, we expect auto enrolment will cost a significant sum in terms of implementation and administration, while energy costs continue to rise. We’re working hard to get big groups and big events into our hotels and are spending more marketing pounds to win business.”

While accessing finance was identified as still being a struggle for many businesses in the leisure sector, the panel discussed how those businesses that have invested in the quality of their offering and marketing activity are reaping the rewards.

Andrew Buchanan, director of pub operations at Daniel Thwaites Brewery, said: “Consumer confidence is key for us. We continue to invest and improve the quality of pub stock and to ensure our product is better. Gaining quick results is not easy, but we expect to see a long term gain as a result of these investments.”

Jane Kelly, marketing and business development manager at Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool, said: “2013 was a challenging year due to the hot weather as fewer people wanted to be indoors, but in the previous six years we’ve seen a year-on-year increase in visitors. We have spent a lot of money improving our attractions and a recent survey found that 80 per cent of our visitors said they got value for money and all said they would come back. The leisure pound is still being spent in the UK and we’re confident of a good year in 2014.”

Speaking after the event, Judith Dugdale, head of Moore and Smalley’s leisure and tourism team, concluded: “For the last few years our Lancashire Tourism Roundtable has provided a good barometer of the county’s tourism industry by getting a firsthand account of the issues that impact on visitor numbers. Again we are seeing changes in customer habits and business owners need to stay attuned to these trends, ensuring they continue to invest in product quality and marketing to pull in customers.”

The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership has identified the visitor economy as key contributor to the regional economy with 62 million visitors per year, generating £3.4bn in revenue and supporting 55,000 jobs. Attendees at Moore and Smalley’s Lancashire Tourism Roundtable were Ruth Connor, chief executive, Marketing Lancashire; Andy Townsend, chief executive officer, Legacy Hotels & Resorts; Claire Smith, Number One St Lukes and President of StayBlackpool; Paul Caddy, owner, Stirk House Hotel; Ian Brown, NatWest; Adrian Moeckell, EWGA; Daniel Yates and Julia Yates, Howarth House Aparthotel; Jane Kelly, director, Sandcastle Waterpark; Andrew Buchanan, director of pub operations Daniel Thwaites; Stewart McIntosh, The Villa at Wrea Green; Judith Dugdale, head of leisure and tourism, Moore and Smalley; Keith Widdicks, Moore and Smalley.