Comment: Investing in culture and heritage benefits tourism

In the second of his quarterly columns, tourism minister Michael Ellis highlights the dual dividend of investing in heritage and culture

I have now been the minister for tourism for six months and it has been a privilege to visit a number of wonderful projects up and down the country.

What has particularly struck me during this time is how government investment in attractions can – and is – reaping benefits not just for the places themselves, but also the wider communities around them.

Take Hull as an example. We invested £15 million ahead of the city’s tenure as UK City of Culture in 2017. In just four years the city created more than 500 new jobs and 90 new businesses which saw an economic boost of more than £60 million in 2017 alone.

 Jodrell Bank funding

More recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire at the end of May and announced £12.1 million of National Lottery Funding, in addition to £4 million from my department, for the new Discovery Centre.

Jodrell is part of the University of Manchester, and aside from being one of the top scientific research centres in the UK, it is also one of the most-visited attractions in the north west of England.

The site welcomes more than 180,000 visitors a year, up from an average of 60,000 a year in 2011. In January 2018 it was nominated for Unesco World Heritage Site Inscription.

This investment will help to create new gallery space to promote and celebrate Jodrell’s place in the history of astronomy.

Birmingham opportunity

I also recently had the opportunity to visit Birmingham to learn more about the region’s new tourism project – England’s Waterways, supported by a £1 million grant from the government’s Discover England Fund, backed up by match funding from partners in the public and private sectors.

The Midlands region has such a charming canal network surrounded by vibrant green spaces and unique heritage attractions, so to help it attract even more people – specifically German and Dutch visitors in this case – to experience these picturesque waterways is important.

The city is one of our leading destinations, with excellent attractions, nightlife and hospitality.

It is hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which will not only be a brilliant sporting spectacle, but also a huge tourism opportunity for Birmingham and the whole region.

Birmingham’s tourism sector witnessed its most successful year yet in 2017, with hotel revenue, visitor numbers and visitor spend all at record highs.

With the Commonwealth Games on the horizon and the arrival of Dippy the Diplodocus this year, this positive tourism trend looks set to continue.

Driving growth

Investing in our cultural and heritage assets attracts interest from domestic and international tourists, helping create jobs and driving growth within our communities. After all, to make our tourism offer the best it can be, we need staff to work there, places for visitors to stay and restaurants to feed them.

And the Discover England Fund is doing exactly that – by showcasing destinations and experiences across the country to overseas markets, driving inbound tourism, boosting our domestic market and ensuring we remain competitive in a rapidly growing global tourism industry.

Our culture and heritage is a bridge between our past and our present and tells the story of our country’s rich history.

Investing in the ancient monuments of Stonehenge or telling the story of astrophysics provides a dual dividend: we preserve our heritage and we promote tourism.

This will make our towns and cities even more attractive places to live, work and visit, creating jobs and boosting our economy.