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Manchester sets goal to be one of Europe’s tourism champions

Existing in Britain’s tourism landscape is no easy game. London, which dominates the country’s tourism market, has some major assets to brag about, particularly its world-renown monuments like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London. And while everyone knows Manchester, up to now the city has lacked an emblematic monument. Worse yet, the city is constantly compared and confronted with neighboring Liverpool, where the Beatles continue to attract travelers from around the world. However, Manchester has good vibes too. Taking advantage of recent advertising campaigns by the British tourist office to increase its arrivals, it is trying to internationalize its clientele and develop business tourism, while improving its supply of cultural products and events. Tourism and hospitality professionals are also quick to expand the upscale and lifestyle supply to meet constantly growing and diversifying demand.

  • Greater Manchester: population 2,685,400 (2011)
  • Manchester: population 514,400
  • Surface area: 116 km²
  • Number of hotels: 219 in Greater Manchester
  • Number of rooms: 13,500 in Greater Manchester
  • Tourist arrivals: 1.17 million international travelers (2013)
  • Primary source markets: Ireland, Germany, United States, France, Australia

Tourism figures are up in the United Kingdom. The number of visitors has not stopped increasing in recent years. VisitBritain announced 34.8 million international visitors to the country last year, or around two million more visitors than in 2013 (+ 6%). London alone accounted for 16.8 million foreign tourists in 2013 according to the National Statistical Office. This is a bit more than half of international arrivals in the country. Manchester's tourist office presents the city as the second most visited city in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the city hosts 3.88 million tourists per year on average (2.71 million domestic visitors per year according to VisitEngland -a three-year average for 2011 to 2013, plus 1.17 million international arrivals according to the ONS), versus 3.55 million for Greater Birmingham, its primary competitor on the British territory. But in terms of international arrivals, Manchester is only fourth with 1.17 million tourists in 2013. While this figure is well ahead of Liverpool (624,000), it remains beneath London, Edinburgh (1.3 million) and very slightly behind Greater Birmingham (West Midlands: 1.2 million). Whence Manchester's tourist office's interest in strengthening its appeal to foreign clientele in order to consolidate its position as second tourist destination in the United Kingdom. While the Manchester Hoteliers Association has observed an increase in number of visitors from India, China and the United States, tourists continue to hail primarily from Ireland, Germany and France.

Business tourism: Manchester is climbing in the European league tables

According to the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), Manchester ranked 33rd in Europe for major events organization with thirty-four international congresses in 2013. London (6th) and Edinburgh (21st) remain ahead with 166 and 55 congresses organized respectively two years ago. Nonetheless, it is ahead of Glasgow (38th) which it surpassed in 2013 while Birmingham (80th), Liverpool (87th) and Cambridge (95th) lag far behind. The city could climb in the ranking in 2014 (figures are not yet available) and in 2015. Last January 6, Marketing Manchester had already announced signing for 40 national and international conferences, or close to 34,000 attendees expected in 2015 and an economic impact estimated at 61 million pounds sterling. The goal is to reach 45 conferences in 2020. To meet the needs of this influx of tourists, Manchester airport is growing rapidly. Located south of the city, it handled 22 million passengers last year, a record since 2007 and a 24% increase over 2010. It services 53 countries and 210 destinations. Moreover it is the third airport in the United Kingdom after the London hubs of Heathrow (73.4 million) and Gatwick (38 million), as it can boast ending the year ahead of Stansted (20 million). In 2030, the goal is to handle 50 million passengers. New arrivals of low-cost airlines connecting to Europe are expected to produce this growth. It may also be observed that 40% of flights are charters. For example, the partnership with Jet 2 in 2013 made it possible to increase arrivals from the Barcelona-Manchester route by 74% according to Marketing Manchester.

Football, another business that benefits hoteliers

In Manchester, football is more than just a sport, it is a passion that excites each resident and even more so since the city offers the public one of the finest derbies on the European sports scene. The mythical club Manchester United now has to fight for first places against Manchester City, the club that became a heavyweight in the English Premier League since its takeover in 2008 by Abu Dhabi investors, and whose stadium Eithad can host close to 50,000 spectators. Greater Manchester is not spared by the football craze either. Bolton and Wigan may play either the Premier League or the Championship but their stadiums seat 28,000 and 25,000 respectively, while Rochdale and Oldham (third division) play in stadiums seating 10,000 each, which shows the economic impact of football in and around Manchester. In the neighborhood of Old Trafford, which is located away from the town center but is trendy, Manchester United's stadium (Old Trafford, 75,000 seats) and Emirates Old Trafford (19,000 seats dedicated to cricket) offer hoteliers good reasons to set up operations there. Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, two former Manchester United players, are entering this new field: the Welshman and the Englishman will open their 133-room "Hotel Football" next door to the stadium, in addition to a boutique hotel with around 35 rooms that should open in Manchester's center in a few years. It will be near the National Football Museum, a new museum dedicated to the sport that should be important for tourism and drives hopes to attract many visitors year round.

Manchester's hotel segment scores well

Greater Manchester has some 247 accommodation facilities, with 86 in the city center (which does not comprise the tourist destination of Old Trafford). The number of hotels & extended stay hotels amounts to 219 units in Greater Manchester. According to figures published by MKG Hospitality, the occupancy rate was 80.9% in 2014 with highpoints of 86-87% in September, October and November. The Spring-Summer season was also very good for hoteliers (more than 82% in March and June). Only January was disappointing with a 68% occupancy rate. While between 2013 and 2014 the occupancy rate increased by 1.1 percentage points, the average daily rate rose from 70.2 to 75.7 pounds sterling excluding taxes, for an increase by 7.9%, allowing the RevPAR to climb 9.3%. And the year 2015 should allow the city to generate even more revenue while new operators make their foray onto the market. In all, 800 new rooms are or will open this year. The five-star supply will grow with the arrival of a fifth property: the 66-room Hotel Gotham. Reputable chains will also strengthen the city's supply, such as Motel One (330 rooms) and Innside by Melia (208 rooms), as well as independent properties, such as Hotel Football (133 rooms) and the King Street Townhouse (40 rooms). Recently, a training hotel (Hotel Future) also opened in Greater Manchester. Located in the suburbs, the 120-room upscale property is entirely operated by the rising stars of the British hotel industry through internship and apprenticeship contracts and directed by young managers. Finally, another project is in the pipeline, but is not expected to open this year: a 326-room complex on 19 floors developed by the Singaporean M&L Hospitality near the University's campus. Marketing Manchester, the agency in charge of promoting the city nationally and internationally, announces it has a pipeline of more than 2,000 additional rooms.

2015, a special year for culture

To maintain the growth of its tourism and hotel industry, Manchester plans to develop its cultural offering in terms of museums and events. Already last summer, the Old Granada Studio opened its doors, giving the city a new cultural center. Located inside former television studios, it is home to the Coronation Street Tour, which takes visitors through the set for this Manchester serial that has been running since 1960. Initially scheduled to remain open until fall 2014, the attraction will continue in 2015 and should continue to attract British tourists. Several events are scheduled to attract international clientele: the Manchester International Festival from July 2 to 19 with ballets, concerts and theater. Also on the program, the 25th edition of Gay Pride, which will be sponsored by the brands Radisson Blu, Double Tree by Hilton and the two British brands Q Hotels and Malmaison. In terms of shopping, the Corn Center Exchange will reopen its doors this summer near the historic center while HOME will open in May. This retail complex will have a contemporary art gallery, a 500-seat theater, five movie screens, cafes and restaurants. For art amateurs, the Whitworth Museum doubled its space since its recent reopening (14 February 2015) and now exhibits 55,000 eclectic objects. Despite these innovations, the city keeps in mind that it must constantly improve its game to stay in the competition. "It's not about being "satisfied". Manchester's competition for tourism is international and the competition is fierce," declared Nick Brooks-Sykes, tourism director at Marketing Manchester. The city will not benefit a great deal from the Rugby World Cup organized in the United Kingdom. While the event will receive extensive media coverage, Manchester will host just one match scheduled at Eithad Stadium: England-Uruguay on October 10. It will be a pool match for the national team, and although this is not a major faceoff, the city and hoteliers are still preparing to host the event along with tourists, especially those from Montevideo.

While Manchester may not be vying for the title of tourism champion in the United Kingdom or Europe, the city nonetheless has real ambitions to stand high in the league of most attractive destinations in Europe. And if it invests to become as good performers in tourism as on the football field, visitors the world over will soon say the grass is always greener in Manchester.

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