Tourism is very important to Birmingham; the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP has recently chosen it (In its Strategy for Growth) as one of the key sectors it wants to grow. Recent figures produced from the International Passenger Survey confirm that Birmingham is treading water when it comes to overseas overnight visitors. The chart below plots the figures (and whilst individual years figures are not statistically significant the overall message is clear.
Birmingham made significant advances in the early 2000’s but since then has stood still. These visitors only form a relatively small portion of total visits and Birmingham has done well with day visits and over night domestic visits so this is not the death nell for Birmingham’s tourism industry but it does perhaps show that something is amiss.
Is it because our exhibition and conference trade has been challenged by London and other cities with more modern facilities? Should we be thinking about how we can build on the success of the ICC and NEC. There are significant investments taking place at the NEC but will the new Leisure facilities for instance attract overseas visitors? When visiting similar facilities in Barcelona I was taken by how they had managed to create their own shows in growth markets. So they established Smart City Expo World Congress and the massively successful Mobile World Congress both of which are growing rapidly and pulling in huge numbers of overseas delegates. Perhaps something to be considered by the NEC group. Perhaps as well it is time to look at the ICC and see if it could be expanded; difficult I know because it is land locked but perhaps it could be extended upwards. The New Library and the refreshed REP make the facade of the ICC seem dated so a refurbishment at least is called for.
Is it because other cities are investing more heavily in culture and the arts whereas Birmingham has largely stood still in the last 10 years? Certainly London, Manchester and Liverpool have made progress during this period. The list of investments in London is huge but there have been wise investments in Manchester and Liverpool.
Perhaps we are missing a trick or two. How many people come to Birmingham and go on a day trip to Stratford, to Warwick and the other fantastic towns close by?
So if the LEP want to grow this type of visit (and this type tends to spend the most) then it will need in its sector plan for Tourism to consider what can be done specifically to attract overseas visitors. What are your views?