The East vs. West coast narrative is typically reserved for our American counterparts, but it’s not entirely absent on UK soil.
Since ‘staycations’ have become increasingly popular post-2020, more Brits are heading to home-grown UK holiday destinations - which has prospective holidaymakers weighing up the pros and cons of each location.
With promising footfall at core attractions, there is a great deal that businesses in the East Midlands’ leisure and tourism sector can learn from the West Midlands’ examples - both in terms of its strengths and weaknesses, especially sustainable long-term investment.
Blackpool’s history as a beloved holiday destination is indisputable - but its shortcomings are equally illuminating. It welcomes over 18 million visitors a year - yielding a tourist economy worth £1.58bn annually, but is not immune to wider economic impacts. Critically, the town has almost double the average national unemployment rate (2.2%).
In fact, the town’s own investment plan refers to it as a ‘low skill, low wage economy’ in which one in every five local jobs is within the tourism industry. The holiday haven has put in place ambitious plans towards underpinning regeneration and supercharging the surrounding economy. The £49.3m investment includes major restoration and modernization of its trademark Blackpool Illuminations, art galleries and central development.
The town has also attracted major investment from Merlin Entertainments; the company that owns Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Madam Tussauds. Since the pandemic, Merlin has invested £3.3 million into new attractions based on The Gruffalo and Peter Rabbit, which go alongside its six other attractions in the town, including The Blackpool Tower and SEA LIFE. Meanwhile, Blackpool Pleasure Beach has reopened its Viking-themed water ride, Valhalla after a £4m investment.
Morecambe has similarly resourceful plans, having recently unveiled a £50m investment to build the new Eden Project Morecambe in Lancashire. As part of the second round of the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’, the plan is projected to bring 740,000 visitors each year after it opens in 2026. It will create around 300 high-quality green jobs and support more than 1,000 additional new jobs around the region.
While support from the national government is helpful in kickstarting regional investment, businesses can’t rely on this. Instead, they should sew the seeds for long-term growth themselves by focusing on capital expenditure now.
Investing in fixed assets (such as land, buildings, computing equipment or software) can foster future growth and ensure that you’re optimally positioned to respond when the market changes or new opportunities arise.
A great example of this is businesses which had already invested in remote working technology before the COVID-19 pandemic as this meant they could continue operations as normal with limited downtime. While this doesn’t translate readily into the leisure and tourism sector, physical improvements such as renovating core areas of a business could have much the same effect. For example, a hotel, holiday park or attraction is typically expected to refresh reception areas every three to five years.
Like Blackpool and Morecambe, the Lincolnshire coast has its own challenges to overcome, such as Mablethorpe’s declining population and limited opportunities for employment. However, we can learn as much from the weaker elements of the West Midlands regeneration plans as from their strengths - such as the need to support local labour and social mobility.
Like with most coastal towns, Mablethorpe’s economy is largely reliant on leisure and tourism, which means that more ambitious plans to leverage tourist experiences into stable, local employment and opportunities for growth could be a huge catalyst for improvement in the local economy. This would help to drive up prospects for residents while at the same time welcoming greater footfall from visitors.
Skegness has just been afforded the opportunity to do exactly that, with a £5m investment from Arts Council England’s Cultural Development Fund to transform the Embassy Theatre and regenerate Skegness Pier and the surrounding area. The move is the first in a multi-million-pound scheme that is hoped to revitalise the region and regenerate the local economy, but (sadly) there’s nothing on the scale of Morecambe’s Eden Project.
However, on a practical level, there is a way that East Midlands’ businesses could support long-term labour growth and refresh the local economy in much the same way: by focusing on recruiting staff from ‘economically inactive’ demographic groups. This means someone who is not employed and who is not actively seeking employment, such as students, older people or people living with a disability.
According to the Annual Population Survey from the Office for National Statistics, there are 1.65 million inactive people in the UK that would like to work but would need specialist support to do so. Figures suggest that a dedicated drive to appeal to these local people would not only diversify the local workforce but also help to combat future labour shortages and keep core demographics in the area and contribute to the economy.
While the plans for Skegness’ resurgence seem well balanced, taking into account accessibility, wider cultural influences and an events-led programme, tourism destinations in the East Midlands can follow clear, structured steps to increase investment in the right way.
A clear focus on capital investment and a varied, economically active local workforce could go a long way towards businesses in the East Midlands’ leisure and tourism sector boosting the regional economy and kick-starting future growth.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can cultivate change in your business to increase footfall and drive growth, get in touch today.