Last week was busier than usual. Or so it seemed, as we completed stages two and three of the Regional Tour to help promote the tourism potential that comes along with the Olympics next year.
Jeremy Hunt and I were part of a small group including people from VisitEngland and the Cultural Olympiad that went to the East Midlands on Wednesday and Cornwall on Friday. Seen from a train window in late November the English countryside is a shifting mix of dark colours and frosty shadows so it’s pretty impressive and it was great, as always, to see what people in our industry are getting up to.
In each region I hosted a seminar with people from the tourism, visitor attraction and hospitality sectors to talk about how they could get the most out of next year, and to encourage them to get on board the 20.12 per cent added value in 2012 scheme that I talked about last time. There’s clearly no shortage of enthusiasm to get involved but, by the same token, we also need to make sure that the scheme is flexible enough to allow the widest possible range of providers to join in. We’ll have all the details shortly, and there’ll be a formal launch early next year.
Why we ‘get’ the country’s heritage
Earlier in the week, I addressed the AGM of the Historic Houses Association which took place at the QE2 Centre in London. The main message was a simple one: the Government ‘gets’ heritage. We understand why it matters and we completely take on board the fantastic contribution it makes, as a driving force for our tourism industry, to the economy and as a really big player in the country’s plans for growth and economic recovery. We also appreciate the – frankly rather obvious, I would have thought – point that our built heritage is a solid symbol of our glorious history as a nation, and has immense value for that reason alone. The person whose heart doesn’t soar, or pulse race, when contemplating one of our cathedrals, castles or fine public buildings should, I believe, consider popping down to an undertaker for a check-up.
Now you might reasonably enough wonder why I’m bothering to make this point. And why, for that matter, it seemed to go down like ‘rare and refreshing fruit’ (as Wodehouse liked to say) with my audience. The sad truth is that it had been more than a decade since they’d heard anything like it. The fact that tourism and our heritage are precious and special to this country has been rather overlooked in the past, it seems. But not anymore, I hope.
Pleasure and value
Another point I made in the speech was about listing buildings (there’s probably a gag here about ‘listing buildings’ needing to be ‘listed’, but time’s against us). It’s really important, I think, that people understand why a building has been listed, not just because it becomes an important factor in subsequent planning decisions, but also because it helps us value our surroundings more and, in doing so, perhaps in some small way taking greater pleasure and value from them. By the same token, we should be making it clear why we haven’t listed something when that’s the case.
Meanwhile VisitBritain has published some interesting stats to show which UK cities drew in the most visits during 2010. It doesn’t distinguish between business visitors and holidaymakers, nor does it take account of how long people stay (an overnight stop scores the same as a two-week break), but it’s fascinating for all that. London comes top by a very long way, of course, and scores so heavily I suspect because of the two provisos I’ve just mentioned, but it’s good to see cities like Manchester and Birmingham totting up overseas visit numbers of 811,000 and 740,000 respectively last year. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country – and at the risk of sounding like Alan Freeman on Pick of the Pops (a radio show that my press officer, Jeremiah, remembers well from his teenage years, back in the days of rationing, music hall and gas lamps) – we see Bath up seven places to number 11 with 263,000 visits and, new in for the first time at number 19, it’s Southampton with a promising 164,000!
All good stuff and helpful evidence to support the idea that towns and cities outside the capital have plenty to offer, and plenty to gain, from the Olympic tourism legacy we’re all trying to bring about. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Weston are holding their own in the charts at number 135 with 36,000 overseas visits. But, then again, our domestic numbers are something else again and, since you ask, even on the overseas visit front, the sparkling jewel of the north Somerset coast comfortably beats Weymouth, Rye, Minehead and Margate to name but four.
Dreamland’s dreams come true
And while our thoughts are on seaside matters, and Margate in particular, a big cheer for the Heritage Lottery Fund that has just awarded a £3 million grant to transform Dreamland in that town into the world’s first amusement park of historic rides. Assuming, as I do, that the finished article contains a selection of vintage one-armed bandits as well as the rides, it will exemplify a brilliant fusion of my departmental interests, and a worthy complement to the Turner Contemporary Gallery recently opened next door. The HLF’s announcement quotes the artist and controversialist Tracey Emin, who has done much in her work to keep Margate in the public eye, displaying a hitherto untapped talent for tourism PR as she declares ’Margate will soon play host to the perfect day out’.
Chilli con Cornish
And finally a quick plug for ‘British Month’ in Mexico City, which took place last month. A diplomatic communiqué from our man on the ground (unclassified so I can share it with you) reports that over 50 events took place across six different cities and that it was all a great – or GREAT – success, with hard work and imagination rewarded by our message reaching nearly three million people, and publicity worth around £200,000 achieved. Stand-out event for me? The third International Cornish Pasty Festival, which took place in the Mexican state of Hildago and has to be, I suggest, the least expected combinations of event and venue since, well, the award of the 2022 World Cup Finals.
Photo of members from the Mexican pasty delegation visiting the Mayor in Redruth © the Cornish Pasty Association.