The devastating impact of the pandemic on the resort’s tourism and hospitality has been confirmed in new figures published today.
The 2020 analysis undertaken by STEAM (an economic impact model), shows that the resort lost an estimated 70 per cent of its visitors and around £1bn of tourism-related spend compared to 2019.
The figures have been published almost a year after tourism businesses sent out an “SOS” message to the Prime Minister over the “catastrophic” effect of lockdowns and tier restrictions.
Visitor numbers for the year were put at around six million compared to more than 18 million in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Economic impact fell from £1.6bn to just under £600m.
Similar size percentage deficits were also recorded across the whole of Lancashire.
Coun Lynn Williams, leader of Blackpool Council, said a large decrease had been anticipated and reflected the massive impact that tier restrictions and repeated lockdowns had on the tourism and hospitality sector in 2019. She praised the ‘resilience and determination’ of local businesses to get through the crisis.
She said: “We witnessed at first hand the huge impact of the pandemic on our tourism industry and the people who work in it. Never was that more stark than this time last year when Blackpool was pushed, against our will, into Tier 3 restrictions on the eve of October half-term, wiping out what should have been the most lucrative part of the season.
“Over the course of last year we lost all but one bank holiday and even when businesses were allowed to trade it was with reduced capacity and social distancing measures in place. It was arguably the worst year our tourism industry has ever experienced.”
Coun Williams said the Council’s decision to invest £1m to kick-start tourism this year was deliberately aimed at getting the industry back on its feet as quickly as possible.
She added: “As we moved into this year, we were determined to do everything within our gift to accelerate the post-pandemic recovery by making a large-scale investment in marketing and events that would encourage people to holiday here, not just in 2021, but in future years too.
“From what we have seen so far, that investment is paying off handsomely. Key indicators such as footfall, hotel occupancy, attraction tickets, are showing very significant increases over both last year and, most importantly, over 2019. At times, the number of visitors on the promenade during the summer and early autumn has been at levels we have not experienced for many years.
“Given the large-scale commitment we have given to investing in additional events and marketing, we are confident that the last quarter of this year will provide a platform for further growth in the years ahead.”
Figures released a few weeks ago showed that footfall on the seafront during July and August this year was more than 60 per cent ahead of pre-pandemic levels in 2019 and 47 per cent ahead of last year. Views on the VisitBlackpool website, the council’s tourism portal, year to date are 1.2m ahead of 2019, a 50 per cent increase.
And, in September, the website recorded more than a million views in a single month for the first time on record.
As part of its tourism recovery plan, the Council has extended the Illuminations season by two months, stretching to January 3, 2022.
November and December will also see the biggest programme of Christmas entertainment that the resort has staged in years.
In addition to the Illuminations remaining lit throughout, there will be an indoor festive market at the Winter Gardens, a Christmas By The Sea village on the Tower Festival Headland with skating rink, magic forest, snowfalls, and themed light projection shows.
The new attractions will be complemented by traditional shows and pantomimes, and for the first time outside London, the FriendsFestive exhibition celebrating all the best seasonal moments from the hit TV show. It will run at the Winter Gardens from November 5-19.
Earlier this year, it was also announced that a new Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), had been established, led by key stakeholders in the tourism industry and giving the potential for a further £1.4m of funding for marketing and events over the next five years.