This post is the first in a mini-series on a gathering set of proposals which may finally go some way to halting the economic decline of Chichester, the progressive spoiling of its heritage and the decay of its public realm.
The management of tourism has been a significant cultural issue in Chichester for many years, yet not many people noticed on 17 March 2015 that Chichester District Council’s (CDC) Overview and Scrutiny Committee met to review a report critical of the City’s current destination management.
Coming from the Tourism Task and Finish Group, this was an unusually forthright report for a council official to write, critical as it was of the chronic lack of leadership provided by the Council to the tourism economy since the 1950s.
This may be because the author comes from the attractions community himself and is a trustee of the successful model developed on the Isle of Wight and which he thinks is eminently reproducible here in Chichester. One might immediately observe that there will be one big element missing for Chichester: that is the level of financial commitment provided by the ferry companies, sufficiently commercially motivated to more or less bankroll the IOW Tourism Trust.
Under section 9 of this report were four options, with a clear favourite in option 4:
- a 3-5 year plan that would provide a single joined-up tourism strategy and lead on those initiatives required to provide a more holistic approach by the CDC to the tourism agenda.
Any one of the other three:
- do nothing
- continue with the current model
- go into partnership with other local initiatives
would fail to provide the robust and determined approach needed to truly deliver to Chichester (and its hinterland) the significant growth potential that lies latent in this market.
Chichester’s Tourism Offer
Chichester’s tourism assets are considerable: access to a high quality natural environment running form the Witterings to the South Downs; a 900 year old Cathedral; Pallant House Gallery; nearby, the home of British Polo, Glorious Goodwood and the Revival; a producing theatre in the top ten in the UK; the second largest marina in the UK, and popular with it; important properties. With assets like these why is Chichester not laughing all the way to the bank?
The report author has done his homework and provides good evidence-based support for his argument, culled from solidly researched national and regional data. The report surveys the existing organisations dedicated to supporting the Chichester visitor economy, of which there are (too) many.
It outlines the plethora of public sector initiatives in the neighbouring districts and the duplication of effort that exist in the private sector.
It pulls in a lot of the basic work done by Visit England on understanding the visitor and lingers usefully on how Chichester measures up to the exhaustive list of satisfaction drivers it is required to meet if tourism is to reach its full potential. The fact that West Sussex is viewed nationally as the fourth worst area for its tourism welcome only serves to demonstrate the distance required to travel if Chichester is to benefit from the tourism dividend.
The figures produced by Visit England for Chichester seem impressive. Did you know that Tourism and Leisure are the largest private sector employer in the District with over 7,500 jobs, not including what might be termed support jobs? Our area generates 5.2 million trips a year with a spend of £144M, 405k staying trips (that’s 1.3M bed nights) that generate a spend of £75M.
With figures like that, where’s the problem, you will say? Well, the South East attracts the highest tourism spend of any region outside of London and there is a clear and growing market for holidays and short breaks in areas such as ours. In 2013, in England alone, UK residents spent £18.7Bn on 297M nights away from home and £46Bn was spent on 1.4Bn domestic tourism days trips.
Our numbers pale into insignificance with 1.3M bed nights out of 297M (0.44%) and a spend of £75M out of £46Bn (0.16%). We are just scratching the surface. In our region Brighton, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Kent are already streets ahead and we’ve got Goodwood, a Cathedral, the harbour and the South Downs just for starters?
Of course there are those who will see that we don’t want visitors, they spoil the quiet of the City which is why we all chose to live here; there will be more dual carriageways and we’ll be just invaded. Some seasoned locals even refuse to consider that Chichester is a tourist destination: it’s a place to live! But it is dying on its feet.
UK high streets have suffered a 19% reduction in sales in the past decade thanks to online shopping and home deliveries, while rents have rocketed, squeezing out local traders in favour of the national chains. Empty shops can be found everywhere now and although Chichester may not yet have as many as some, a visitor from Guildford was heard to remark in East Street recently: “We used to come for all the local shops, now Chichester’s just like Guildford. We might as well have stayed at home.”
Chichester needs visitors – they bring in the money – and the report is eloquent about the level of response required to meet the criteria for success in attracting them, to deliver the key measures and indicators and to truly understand the visitor.
The obstruction to achieving this is seen to be the amorphous mass of organisations at work in the local tourism economy, many of which are inward-looking and more concerned with the offer than with what the customer actually wants. The report pulls no punches: decades of absent leadership from the Council have resulted in a sector with neither consistency of approach nor coherent strategy, with duplication of resources, limited leadership, few professionals and too wide a distribution of meagre resources to ensure an impact commensurate with the money invested.
Finally the paper outlines the simple formula for the success of this new body: a joined-up approach; attracting visitors and inward investment; improving the infrastructure, the welcome and ease of movement of visitors; extending their stays and promoting return visits.
This CDC report seems deliberately to have been submitted prior to the recent election for tabling before the new Council.
Resources for research and data collection have been identified and were approved. Paragraph 11.1 of the CDC report comments ‘The Council has already recognised the importance of the visitor economy in the Corporate Plan 2015-2018 and some initial resources towards research and data have provisionally been allocated’. The challenge facing the Council will be to ensure that sufficient resources can be found to drive a more holistic tourism strategy for the Chichester District – at arm’s length and with sufficient drive, professionalism and leadership – from a new Tourism BID that will satisfy all the stakeholders.
Since this Council voted in favour of funding the research programme, perhaps there is appetite among the new Councillors to act upon its recommendations than any of their predecessors. The challenge will be to ensure that sufficient resources do exist to drive a holistic tourism strategy for the Chichester District, at arm’s length and with sufficient drive, professionalism and leadership from a new Tourism BID that will satisfy all the stakeholders; from elected members to the tourism businesses, the citizens and the visitors of course.