A cursory glance at the report would lead you to believe that all was going swimmingly in the best of possible worlds for the Southport economy. After all:
• Visitor Numbers – 8.7 million a 1.4% increase;
• Staying Visitors – 722k a 4.2% increase;
• Economic Impact (visitor economy) £518 million a 4.1% increase;
• Total Employment (visitor economy) 6,449 a 1.4% increase. Staying visitors are the most valuable to the destination in terms of economic value; therefore a 4.2% increase in 2016 represents a strong economic return
This look like good news until you factor in that this reporting period included the Open Golf which comes at best every 8 years. As the detail of the report shows the one-off impact is enormous. 'In July Royal Birkdale, Southport hosted The Open for the 10th time. Played over 8 days including practice days the event attracted over 235,000 people making it the biggest Open in England of all time. The expected economic benefits of The Open are forecast to be around £100 million, this includes the media value.'
First off let us congratulate the Royal Birkdale Club they laid on a first rate event. I spoke at theier annual dinner prior to the Open. I was unstinting in my recognition of the crucial contribution that the Open coming to Birkdale has on the local economy. But it is a one off. Strip it out from the figures and the trends are not that rosie.
One area I want to concentrate on is the state of our conference trade. As the report says :
The Southport Theatre and Convention centre (STCC) is regarded as an excellent venue for medium to large scale conferences. In 2016 the venue hosted 19 conferences that generated 20,480 bed nights worth an estimated £9 million to the local economy.
Gulp, only 19 conferences in the entire year. Just over a thousand bed nights spread over,say 60 nights. What happened to the other 300 nights? This is the direct result of Sefton Council's disinvestment in Southport's visitor economy. On the Council Southport member have tried to stop the cuts to the towns tourism budget by moving costed amendments to the budget. Regrettably the Bootle cabal who run the council refuse to listen.
Let us be clear, We have a good product. As Mayor I opened a goodly proportion of those conferences. I mingled with the delegates getting feedback about the town and the accommodation. I have recorded elsewhere how pleasantly surprised I was by the universal praise I heard from delegates about the hotels and guesthouses (big and small) the restaurants and the places for afternoon tea. The conference hall and the floral hall provide a great venue so why is our conference trade not stronger?
I attended a conference in Bournemouth this year. Representatives of the venues for that conference in 2018 and 2019 attended to promote their towns and facilities. There was no presence from Southport despite the fact that event is coming to the town with a thousand plus delegates in March.
The conference trad is central to the visitor economy. It provides work for our citizens in hotels and restaurants. But if we are operating so for below capacity then that work instead of be permanent become casual. The council has let us down. Instead of playing at being real estate investors they should concentrate on promoting our town so that sustainable jobs are created and maintained in the hospitality sector. They have taken their eye of the goal.