Comment: Liverpool has ambitious anniversary aims

Visitor numbers to Liverpool have grown each year since it was the European Capital of Culture but the city must not stand still, says Chris Brown, director of Marketing Liverpool

As someone who was working in the city region when Liverpool first discussed bidding to be European Capital of Culture, it’s scarcely believable that it’s a full decade since the transformative year of 2008 itself.

The European Capital of Culture award brought a fantastically ambitious events programme, international media coverage and a record year for tourism.

However, in isolation, these are essentially memories. The greatest success is the legacy which still benefits the city.

The award helped to reignite the confidence of Liverpool’s people, businesses and organisations and 2008 was the starting point for 10 years of year-on-year growth in visitor numbers.

It saw several game-changers, most notably the opening of Liverpool ONE, which revitalised the city’s retail sector, and the ACC Liverpool convention centre, which made us an internationally recognised business tourism destination.

Delegates at Future Global Opportunities for UK Tourism this month (June 28) will see the city’s conference offer first-hand.

Cultural hub

Another key factor was the impetus for Liverpool’s arts scene.

The city has shown itself to be a cutting-edge cultural hub and that the title was not a one-off.

Tate Liverpool has attracted critical and commercial successes such as exhibitions from Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.

Liverpool Biennial has established its reputation as the UK’s largest contemporary arts festival.

Philharmonic Hall and the Everyman theatre have thrilled crowds on Hope Street and our museums have brought record numbers of visitors, best seen this year with the phenomenal popularity of China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors at World Museum.

All of these are part of Liverpool 2018, a programme of events from January to December.

The aim of this programme is to reflect on the 10th anniversary, and show that our visitor offer is now year-round; irrespective of when visitors come, there’ll be more than enough to stimulate and entertain them.

Liverpool is a very ambitious city, and we want to continue this growth to the point where we are rivalling European cities such as Stockholm, Berlin and Amsterdam.

Strong local leadership has ensured there are developments afoot such as a new permanent cruise terminal, new film studios and big events, such as the Netball World Cup in 2019 and World Gymnastics Championships in 2022.

Constantly competing

However, while the picture is undoubtedly positive, one of the biggest things we have learnt over that time is that we can’t stand still.

Destinations are constantly competing for visitors’ attention, and it’s imperative that our offer evolves and we communicate our brand in new ways.

The changing nature of travel gives organisations such as ours opportunities and challenges; for example, the ever-increasing reliance on social media and ever-declining need for ‘official tourist boards’ raises questions about how a destination manages its brand and stays relevant.

The things people want are changing; we find more visitors want to go beyond the surface and get under the skin of Liverpool, have unique food and drink experiences and live like a local.

Question of finances

Then there is the question of finances. Public money, the traditional source of funding for destination marketing organisations and big events, is more strained each year and that won’t change.

Measures such as visitor levies have proven successful in some of our competitor destinations, and it’s imperative that the industry at least gives this proper consideration.

If we don’t, we risk losing momentum and falling behind European and US competitors, where such measures are already in place.

Overall, I am in no doubt the picture is positive – both for Liverpool and the UK as a whole.

I hope to see many of you at the International Business Festival, where we will show why Liverpool continues to be an outward-facing city region and why we’re so proud of it.

For more about the Future Global Opportunities for UK Tourism conference on June 28, visit futureglobalopportunitiesforuktourism.com