A conference was held last week in Grange over Sands. The conference was entitled “Destination Coast” and I decided to attend at my own expense(all of £12 for the rail fare).
Several speeches were made on topics ranging from Improving bathing Waters to Making the Most of Natural Assets.
However , what caught my interest was the opening speech on “Seaside Towns in the Age of Austerity - Recent Trends in Employment in Seaside Tourism in England.. The speaker was Professor Steve Fothergill from Sheffield Hallam University. His speech was based on a publication he jointly authored.
The 50 page report contains a lot of data and maps that were of particular interest to me as a Southport based councillor and, in particular, as a past Cabinet Member for Tourism.
The findings showed that Southport employed 4,400 directly related to tourism in 2012 compared to 5,300 in 2008, a loss of 900 jobs in 4 years. This compares with Greater Blackpool losing 3,200 jobs and Eastbourne gaining 800 jobs during the same 4 year period.
The authors believe that the loss of jobs in Southport is due mainly to the competition offered by Liverpool to our retail offer, while Blackpool’s losses are down to a drift away from traditional B&B’s to Travelodge type hotels that employ fewer people.
The figures back this up. Greater Blackpool employs 59% of its total in hotels/restaurants and only 18% in retail compared to Southport’s 43% in both retail and hotels/restaurants.
I drew the following conclusions: Whilst austerity can be blamed for Southport’s job losses it cannot explain a national growth in tourism employment from 207,000 to 212,000. Neither can everything be blamed on a north-south divide, though this is generally evident; for example Morecambe and Bridlington both gained 100 jobs. Southport has to do something to combat the competition coming from Liverpool’s retail sector. We can either improve our retail offer in an attempt to draw tourists away from Liverpool, or look to improving our traditional seaside attractions and look for new attractions that our competitors do not have. My personal belief is that we have a better chance if we encourage the development of new tourist attractions rather than trying to compete with Liverpool's retail offer.
The report itself drew the following conclusion: “ The seaside tourist industry has, it seems, weathered the post-2008 economic downturn relatively well and even sustained the modest growth that was evident before the recession. The survival of a large seaside tourist industry should be good news, not just for most seaside towns but also for UK plc. The challenge now is to ensure that the industry delivers its full potential in the coming years.”