The Visitor Economy – Is It Better Than 10 Years Ago?!

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Ten Years Ago when I was Mayor of the City, I asked a set of questions in a speech, at a tourism event. I was a little outspoken at that time. But this is the speech I gave back then to the Wolverhampton Tourism seminar.  Now the tourism language has disappeared and the new buzz word is the Visitor Economy!

The reason for placing this speech here on line, is because many of the issues I was critical of then, may be issues that are still with us now. There is therefore an interest to see how much progress we have made against the speech I gave a decade ago!

In this years City Council programme – The new Scrutiny panel will be considering the visitor economy as part of the scrutiny work programme 2015-16. I wonder if they will be up to taking a look at the ten year situation and see what improvements have taken place. Please read and let me have your comments and I will use them if I can. Iam keen to hear from all people involved in the Wolverhampton Visitor Economy.

Wolverhampton and Tourism Speech Given By Councillor Phil Bateman MBE Mayor of Wolverhampton to Wolverhampton Tourism Seminar 20th May 2005 Quality Inn Wolverhampton.10.00 am Check Against Delivery. Wolverhampton and Tourism 20th May 2005
Speech Given By Councillor
My interest in tourism in Wolverhampton was whetted when I read at the back end of 2004 that Birmingham had increased tourism to their City by 60% and that much of the tourism growth was on the back of industry and commercial visits. I thought at the time the figures were impressive.

It got me thinking about what was Wolverhampton trying to do to increase tourism. After all it is a huge economic sector, and a great opportunity to diversify the local economy and of course introduce much needed new jobs into our City.

I think Birmingham is a huge economic driver for our West Midlands Region. I work in Birmingham and I am involved in my day job with that City and therefore I see what a proactive set of policy initiatives and a good organisational platform can deliver, when it works well. As you can see I am a fan of what Brum has done in this sector.

I think that with a joined up plan and strategy we can make our citizens tax £’s go further and be spent more efficiently.
All of that was of course non controversial, and of course being the Mayor you are supposed to say non controversial things be as sweet as sugar and get off the stage!

Well folks that approach is not for me. Not for me on such an important issue as this one is for our City. I know that part of the job of this seminar is to forge a way forward. So now when I make the following remarks I want you to frame them in a positive way! Even if you violently disagree with all that I am about to say! So hear goes…

I do not believe that this City has taken tourism seriously previously. I do not believe that we have set successful policy to attract the tourist £’s, nor have we done much to support the private sector here in the city that is already scraping a living out of what well …. Just comes here!
One of the first things that I did in November 04 was to search around and have a look at what kind of strategy the City had published that would guide Wolverhampton, I was very pleased to find that we had a document . We had of course published it and it was due to run out in 2005. So that document had done its job.

That strategy document stated that there was

  • no allocated tourism budget for advertising and there has never been any consumer or trade advertising of Wolverhampton as a tourist destination!

Now I was surprised by that. It is not like that there are thousands of people just waiting to hop on a train or plane and come to good old Wolverhampton….I am not saying that.
I would have thought that if we were to be looking for people to come we would have to persuade them that their adventure was worth while! Surely to do that we would have to produce some marketing some resourceful magazine article Press or Media campaigns that would persuade our potential visitors that we were a City worth investing some of their time in. Not a location to visit do the job and quickly escape! But clearly that has been our attitude, and that has been the strategy, you have to draw that conclusion, if there had been no modest strategy in place to try and attract visitors?!

But I am sorry to raise the spectre of Brum again…But if Brum can raise its visitor numbers by 60%…. well we ought to be trying to emulate that growth. We need to have more confidence in what we have to offer as a City we have the same type of industrial background and history. Only recently in the last 10-15 years has Birmingham cast off its ugly image, and Wolverhampton has never been ugly!

We have a history that stretches back over a thousand years, we have been attracting tourists ever since those Danes came visiting on their boats up the river Severn and the River Tame. Eyeing up the women and taking the livestock! They certainly made overnight stays in our locality, and they were I expect happy to do so! I for one want those Danes back!

They can leave some of their former habits behind, but what I would like is for this City to dwell on the history that we have to drive this economic and tourism sector forward.

  • There is a huge explosion of interest in local studies and family history.

Again in my mind we are not making enough of the treasures we have. History is money and we have a thousand years of it that we have generally and largely ignored. History is being pumped out across the television and the history channel is now cool. I want our city to make more of its past!

  • I believe that for the business traveller to Wolverhampton has a healthy number of attractions.

If you decide to stay then you will probably stumble upon the Evening cultural and entertainment scene.

  • Wolverhampton supports pop & classical concerts at the Civic and Wulfrun Halls we have great theatre and the Grand Theatre/Arena Theatre plus the local Cinemas etc do a fine job.

Wolverhampton provides the home for a 100,000 jobs, this is a platform that has to be serviced.Visits by business is taking place here in the city everyday. Deals are being cut and salesman from across the UK and indeed across the World are visiting everyday. What have we done to capture their interest, hold them for a few hours longer? According to our strategy document not a great deal!
We have a main line rail connection with other good transport links; we are not cut off from the rest of the world! We are the thirteenth biggest Town/City in the UK ,and we should be bold about what we have to offer for the commercial visitor.
Our star performing sectors are business services, computing health/social services professional services and the drinks and chemical sectors (City Centre Strategy Document) Indeed the transport and distribution sectors are out performing the UK average. All of this should provide a platform to launch a better more focussed policy that could draw in the business visitor to our City.

If we are brave enough to invest properly in a strategy that just does not pay lip service to the aims of boosting the performance of tourism.

  • Interestingly the tourist sector is not mentioned except to say in our City Centre strategy document that we need a ’boutique hotel with a new square at the Royal Hospital site’. I agree with that statement, but what have we contributed to make that statement come true…….in the last five years?

In my view we have some tremendous strength that we seem to ignore …the fact that we have 30m people within a two hour drive! And of course we have the University and what a draw that is…..are we really taking advantage of all the opportunity that surrounds this institute.

  • We are in a very good location; we are well placed for visitors who may be looking to enjoy the good products that are located in other parts of the Black Country, Staffordshire and Shropshire.

In short we do need to get it together better than we have.
The Information Centre requires urgent attention said that tourism strategy! Now I expect our staff work very hard to maintain the building and put their best gloss on what we offer the visitor when we have attracted them into the building.
But what that strategy document also told me was that “the stock of visitor literature requires urgent attention”. In short they do not have the tools to sell Wolverhampton to an unsuspecting wanderer from a far off part of Britain or from overseas.

  • So I would like to see some real radical policy development here, more publicity and support in this direction is required.

The hoteliers and the industry that supports tourism needs help in this City; let me give you an experience that I have had only this week. I tried to find rooms for an overnight stay in a good quality hotel on Wednesday night for guests of mine coming to Wolverhampton for the Mayor-making. An overnight stay in good quality rooms was not available. No rooms were available in the hotels we tried!

On Tuesday night in desperation I got the car out and visited The Village in Walsall …full until Thursday, Days Inn Telford one room available but taxi costs were £25-£30 each direction, we finally managed to track down an Executive Room in Dudley Merry Hill! Not exactly a good advert for this City. The plus side of it was that all the rooms in the modest sector that we have were fully booked. I don’t know why…we are not an end destination for football finals like Cardiff currently is!

  • The Mayor Making was certainly not that popular, to fill all the hotel bed rooms! I suspect that the ordinary everyday life of Wolverhampton as a trading city, as an industrial city, was filling those beds!

Just the everyday work of the City must be providing for this sector. So there is hope here, after all what that strategy document tells us is that there was an estimate that Wolverhampton visitors numbered about 3.5m per year and that 344,558 persons spent an overnight here in Wolverhampton.

  • That equates to the fact that 3,444 jobs were identified as being supported by the tourism sector here in Wolverhampton.

I think that we can increase both the number of visitors and the number of jobs, with an aggressive and confident strategy, one that is much better financed than our efforts to date!

  • My theme for this year of Industry Commerce and Culture badges this plea very well.

On the culture side Wolverhampton is a really great venue for concerts and theatre for instance more than half a million tickets were sold for performances at theatres and concerts halls during 2002/3.

  • Turnover in arts venues alone was £million pounds with £5.5 million coming from box office income.

Who would have believed that!

  • In addition to that £97million was spent by over night visitors of which £20m was spent on entertainment!

These are massive figures for Wolverhampton; they indicate that we not only have a very healthy cultural agenda here in Wolverhampton. The statistics represent more than that, the statistics inform us that there is job creation opportunities in this type of economic performance.

  • They inform us that there is an interest in what we do with entertainment in this City. They indicate that this City is not sleepy, not a City with no passing interest! It tells us that we have an exciting cultural base that others want to taste.

My view is that we need to use this platform to explode upwards and take advantage of what we have slowly amassed. We need a well resourced forward looking strategy that the prime stakeholders in this City can buy into.

  • The official line here in the City is that we have been taking a ‘development approach’.

My view is that we have not fully exploited the strength that we have here in the City with all its varied entertainment outlets. The history of the City, its position as an iconoclastic rock concert venue, its thriving night life, its classical concerts also the brilliant Arena Theatre as well as the Grand Theatre, the sort of talent that was on show at the City’s Mayor Making when Wolverhampton’s own ‘Shout’ production company stole the cheers!

  • In short I think that we …all of us… politicians,… me included have not had enough vision!

Consequently we have not been staffed up to take advantage of the situation that has developed. We have not provided the financial resources that go with the needs that this sector development requires.
The good news is that the City Council is now going to establish a dedicated team to co-ordinate existing, and developing cultural events, it is being armed with a brief to be a little more aggressive in looking for the big event type opportunities that come around. More importantly for me is the fact that there is to be greater co-ordination and publicity of out door events.

  • My view is that there is still a weakness in the fact that Regeneration and the economic development team still do not seem to have a handle on this sector.

That the City Council charge Leisure with holding the reins.I think that we need to recognise that these issues are economic development and the more focussed the team the better we will do.
Nevertheless I am very pleased with the progressive steps we as a City Council are now making. This is a great City with a lot going on. We can take its development further and I am very excited by today’s event. I do hope that you will look with vision at this issue and that you will come up with a strategy and action plan that will eradicate the forlorn efforts that have taken place previously.
Strong words I know…but we do have agreat opportunity of getting it right this time round…I know that you will take my criticisms as they were meant in a constructive way. Conference I hope your day is very productive and the end process is a better Wolverhampton. End

Author: Phil Bateman

Phil Bateman

Phil Bateman is Married to Mary and lives in Wednesfield North. He was a long serving local politician having served previously on the now defunct West Midlands County Council... read more


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