How Blackpool is fighting to keep staycationers
Blackpool has it all', that's been the motto of Blackpool's tourism leaders in recent years.
Let’s face it, what other resort, or even major city, in the UK can boast the range of attractions we have right here on our doorstep?
Yet while visitor numbers have been steadily on the increase - an extra 540,000 people visited in 2017 compared to 2016 - overnight stays in 2017 had fallen to 3.14m from 3.63m the previous year.
Figures released by the council appear to show a fall in adult visitors in recent years, from an average of around 10 million at the start of the decade.
The regular omnibus surveys revealed the number of those staying at least one night in the resort was consistently above 40 per cent – but fell sharply last year from 46 per cent to 38 per cent. However, while the total number of overnight stays appear to be declining, those staying for holiday and leisure purposes increased between 2016 and 2017.
The fall in overnight stays actually comes from the number of people coming to Blackpool while visiting friends, and those staying overnight for ‘specific leisure events’ - despite the addition of events such as Livewire Festival and moving the Blackpool Air Show from a Sunday-Monday event to Saturday-Sunday.
In addition, hoteliers have suggested the length of stays may be increasing.
So among the multitude of confusing statistics that can boggle the mind, where does the truth lie?
And - crucially - what can be done to arrest the apparent fall in overnight stayers, based on the council’s figures?
Back in 2013, the now-defunct Marketing Blackpool launched Resort Pass, with a central aim of increasing overnight stays.
The pass brought together the Pleasure Beach and the large Merlin-run attractions of the Tower, Madame Tussauds, the SeaLife Centre and the Tower Dungeon, to offer a single entry ticket for the lot, with Resort Pass Plus adding on the Sandcastle, Blackpool Zoo and Blackpool Model Village And Gardens.
Marketing bosses championed it as a way to increase overnight stays with Natalie Wyatt, the boss of Marketing Blackpool, saying: “In 2012 we have increased visitor numbers but ultimately trying to increase overnight stays is the main priority.
“It will be a seven day pass, offering good value for money, which should encourage people to stay for three or four nights.”
But has it worked?
Sales of the Resort Pass last year dropped to 14,820 according to figures from the Visitor Economy Performance Indicator reports, compared with 16,822 sold in 2015.
Locally, Visit Blackpool’s own figures, which include external sales through traders as well as their own direct sales as reported to VEPI, show 12,739 passes were sold in 2015, 17,682 in 2016, and 16,306 in 2017.
So has the impact of the Resort Pass waned on those all important overnight stays?
Admittedly, 16,306 is a drop in the ocean for a resort that attracts 18 million people a year.
And the take up can easily be affected by the weather (good and bad) and changes to school holidays.
But for many, it has been an invaluable addition to what the resort can offer to keep it ahead of the opposition.
What do tourism leaders think?
Robert Owen, director of marketing at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, said: “We sell the Resort Pass on our website, so when someone goes online to book their visit to the Pleasure Beach - they have an option to buy the pass.
“We know we get visitors coming specifically for a visit to the Pleasure Beach, but we’re also aware that they want to go to the zoo, the beach and the other attractions, and that’s where the Resort Pass comes in.
“And if they book the pass, that’s great because they’ll have more time to eat in restaurants, see shows, to shop and do all the other things which a day visitor isn’t going to do.”
And Kate Shane, manager of the Merlin cluster of attractions in Blackpool says the pass showcases the best of Blackpool and brings attractions together to work as partners rather than rivals.
“It’s all about the opportunity to have a product that reflects the main experiences people can have in the resort,” she said.
“The fact it does that means you can’t stay for one or two days, and that helps acommodation, food and beverage, retail, shows - everybody.”
At Blackpool Zoo, sales of the Resort Pass have grown every year since it launched - and that in the first five months of 2018, were up on 2017.
Marketing and PR manager Della Belk said: “Resort Pass has been a great thing.
“It does bring people in, and visitors think it’s great value.
“People expect it now, to get that added value - when I go on holiday, I look for something similar but we’re the only place in the UK doing it.”
John Child, managing director of the Sandcastle Waterpark, said ‘probably less than five per cent’ of their visitors came on Resort Pass tickets, but that he still backed it as a positive scheme.
“We look at it more holistically as what it does for Blackpool as a whole than what it does specifically for us.
“The attractions put in a lot [of subsidy] to make things more affordable for visitors on the pass, to help them spend two, three or four days in resort.
“But it’s about all the businesses standing together as a destination.”
The smallest player in the Resort Pass partnership - no pun intended - is the Model Village at Stanley Park, and owner Anita Bakewell said it had given the village a great boost.
“People come to us who would never have considered coming otherwise - and they often tell us we were their favourite place,” she said. “It’s brought us new repeat visitors and regulars too.”
Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool hoteliers’ association, said: “It helps people to be able to budget for their trip, like going to Florida - all you have to pay for by the time you get there is your food and drink,” she said. “It’s a fabulous idea and it does what it’s supposed to.
“It was a bold move by VisitBlackpool and the attractions to create it, and it really sets us apart from other UK resorts.”
While Mick Grewcock, who runs Burbage Holiday Lodge and Queens Mansions in Bispham, said around 70 per cent of his trade was now one- or two-week stays, and backed the ‘all inclusive’ nature of the Resort Pass.
“It definitely gets people to stay longer,” he said. “And the more all inclusive we can make people’s stays the better.
“It would be nice though if smaller operators like ourselves could sell the Resort Pass - that would help give back to the tourism economy, and would be a good thing for us to be able to market to our guests.”
What is the Resort Pass?
The pass offers visitors large savings on the costs of entry to individual attractions. The 2018 pass costs £57.50, saving more than £47, while the Pass Plus costs £83, saving £69.
A Visit Blackpool study at the end of the 2016 season found that 89 per cent of Resort Pass users had stayed overnight, with more than 31 per cent staying more than five nights in the resort, and travelling from as far-afield as Australia and India to take up the offer.