Blackpool: Why isn't it marketed to foreign tourists?


Old-fashioned fun beside the sea in Blackpool

Britain's most popular seaside resort has spent millions on regeneration but the tourist authorities aren't marketing it to foreign visitors. Are they a little bit ashamed, or are there genuine obstacles?

In the 1950s a week or two by the seaside was the highlight of the year for the ordinary Briton.

But the jewel of Britain's seaside towns, Blackpool, once an ideal destination for low-cost family fun, has struggled to maintain its identity in the years after low cost air travel and holidays in the sun became more affordable.

The families were joined by hen parties, stag groups and drunken day trippers, and Blackpool became a byword to some for an aggressively cheap kind of experience.

But the seaside town - popularly associated with "kiss me quick" hats, candy floss, and sticks of rock - has spent years smartening itself up and is currently undergoing a multi-million pound facelift.

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Visitor numbers have risen to 13 million a year - making it more popular than the Taj Mahal or the Statue of Liberty.

But the number of overseas tourists remains low, at less than 1% of the total recorded numbers, according to VisitBritain. So is Britain keeping its favourite resort a secret for good reason, or could more foreign tourists be persuaded to visit?

It has a famous tower, three piers, a spectacular festival of lights, and the Pleasure Beach - the UK's most popular amusement park.

But its reputation took a battering when it went through "a bit of a low patch", admits Alan Cavill, assistant director of tourism for Blackpool Council.

Up until the mid-1980s Blackpool attracted 17 million visitors a year but during the 1990s this number fell to 10 million, at least in part because of the competition from budget airlines and foreign package holidays.

Cavill now believes people within the UK are rediscovering the resort. "Something like 65% of all people in the UK have been here at some point during their lives - and whether they like it or love it, they're giving it another chance and realising it's not the same Blackpool they visited a few years ago."

But he acknowledges it hasn't done a very good job of promoting itself abroad.

"We're not famous for overseas visitors - but now we've got some internationally recognised brands here, like Madame Tussauds, and the Blackpool Eye, to rival the London and Sydney Eye."

A marketing company is now trying to promote Blackpool in the same way as Florida markets itself to the rest of the world.

"Some brands forsook Blackpool for years as they didn't see it as a family resort, or upmarket enough - the fact that we now have Nando's and a Pizza Express opening is a big thing for the town," says Cavill.

Blackpool's Illuminations
  • There are around 1,700 hotels in Blackpool and 57,000 bed spaces
  • Blackpool extends its holiday season with an annual lights festival, the Illuminations - 10km of decorative lights and tableaux which light up the seafront until early November
  • It takes 22 weeks to put the lights up and nine weeks to take them down

Prime Minister David Cameron has urged attractions in the UK to work hard to encourage foreign tourists to visit, particularly the growing middle class in China. But might Blackpool appeal to them in the same way that London or Bath does?

It's not a question VisitBritain can easily answer. Despite repeated calls and emails to ask why Blackpool is not being promoted to international visitors, a satisfactory answer is not immediately forthcoming. VisitBritain's press officers seem genuinely puzzled by the question.

Spokesman Mark Di-Toro goes so far as to say that Blackpool is among the top 40 or 50 locations for foreign visitors but admits that "it's not that well known abroad as yet - there's been a lot of regeneration and it's an area we do promote but mainly for domestic tourists".

Jimmy Zhang from Titicaca Travel, a Chinese travel company specialising in trips to the UK, says that Blackpool has not been a popular request as part of an itinerary for Chinese tour groups.

"It's just not as well known as Edinburgh or the Lake District," Zhang notes.

"Blackpool's main attraction is the seaside and Chinese people don't come halfway round the world to see the sea - they want to see historic buildings, Oxford and Cambridge, Stonehenge or Stratford upon Avon. They want to go to Manchester because of the football club."

The Chinese tourist market is growing rapidly, driven by burgeoning affluence.

"Once they have been to Europe they want to visit the UK as well - they're really interested in its history," says Zhang.

Strolling along Blackpool's seafront, a high tide lashing up the steps and huge seagulls hovering above on the look-out for discarded chips, you will encounter a few foreign tourists, but they are a small minority.

Bruce, from Newfoundland, Canada, is on a two-week trip to England and said he wanted to see Blackpool after Jack and Vera Duckworth visited it on the British soap opera Coronation Street.

"It's beautiful and very busy - but I think unless you're a fan of Coronation Street, Canadians don't know about it - it's not promoted in Canada, but of course the American amusement parks are. I've been walking along the promenade and enjoying the smell of Blackpool - cotton candy, French fries and salty sea air."

View from Blackpool Tower The observation platform at the top of the Grade I-listed Blackpool Tower features a skywalk

Much of Blackpool's £300m regeneration project is concentrated on restoring its iconic heritage buildings - the Blackpool Tower and the art deco Winter Gardens.

Claire Smith opened a boutique hotel in Blackpool four years ago, and believes the regeneration of Blackpool's seafront has brought back confidence to the town, and a new type of visitor.

"When Lancashire lost its mill towns, potteries and mining works and factories closed down people started coming to Blackpool en masse, the prices of B&Bs went down and so did the quality - it only takes two seasons for somewhere to look tired and shabby - and the guests were of a lesser quality."

But she says with the arrival of global brands people are seeing the changes. "We've cleaned our act up. It will attract more families - Blackpool has always been about the mods and the rockers, the stags and the hens, and I think that will stay. But it's also about fun - embracing the new of the future and the good of the old."

There is a general consensus that people don't come to Blackpool for art galleries and sophistication but for fun and popular culture. Richard Ryan has been managing Blackpool's Illuminations since 1999 and says he thinks Blackpool is Britain's "guilty pleasure".

"People can be snobby about Blackpool but we need to remove some of that guilt - it did have a tacky period but so did all of Britain's seaside resorts," he added.

Start Quote

Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen

Blackpool is maybe seen as a bit wild and dangerous for southerners - you won't see it featured in the Guardian - it's about eating fish and chips as you walk down the street”

End Quote Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen Interior designer

He thinks a lot of the negative perceptions of Blackpool come from people in the south of England. "There is a place for everybody, the lord of the manor can come and so can his butler. It won't do any harm to attract a 'higher class' of visitor - but we also have to be mindful of our constituency, not alienate them."

Not all is bright in the northern resort. Although only 13.5 miles square, Blackpool is one of the country's most densely populated towns, with 142,000 residents.

The local economy is highly seasonal, with many low-paid jobs and the large stock of low-cost, privately rented accommodation means there is a constant flow of people moving into and out of Blackpool. Poverty levels are high - Blackpool is the sixth poorest area in the country.

Interior designer Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen has been helping create Blackpool's Illuminations for the past five years. He says that although Blackpool became a byword for blue collar binge drinking it was originally created by the Victorians as "a genteel, artistic resort".

"Blackpool's architecture is about edifying entertainment. It's incredibly elegant but also shows that it's a place where design can have a bit of a laugh."

In order to be recognised internationally he believes Blackpool must work very closely with Liverpool as a tourist destination - in the same way that Brighton is seen as a day trip or weekend away for people visiting London.

"Blackpool is maybe seen as a bit wild and dangerous for southerners - you won't see it featured in the Guardian - it's about eating fish and chips as you walk down the street. It has a real and palpable energy that's outside snobbery."

He thinks that in general Britain needs to rethink its image abroad.

"It isn't about blokes with bowler hats and umbrellas - it isn't bath buns and whippets, we need to provide a vision of Britain that is multi-hued. If tourists are going up to Edinburgh, why not stop off in Blackpool? These are not long distances for someone visiting from Asia or the US to travel."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I laugh at all these snobs and boarding school products talking bad about Blackpool. "Ooh it's so filthy!" - Get a grip and learn how to have a laugh and a bit of fun you miserable souls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    There's nothing wrong with Blackpool. It verges on the tacky and it can be surprisingly expensive, but I think it generally gets away with it. It's problem is location - foreign tourists are much more likely to take a day trip from London to visit Brighton or some other South Coast resort. People visiting the Lake District are likely to be exactly the sort of people Blackpool doesn't appeal to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I have never been there so I can't really talk. However the only people I know from around here (south west) who choose to go there for hen nights or holidays ect are the very type of people being described in many of the posts...

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    #69 Water froths when it moves around. Its why you get froth in jacuzzis. If you're implying the sea is full of sewage it isn't. The biggest problem affecting sea water cleanliness is run off from farm land... you'll get the same excess fertiliser etc in the sea off Cornwall. It just LOOKS cleaner because it colder and deeper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I'm lucky enough to live in the South West, with beautiful beaches, 3 spectacular moors and milder weather. However, even we struggle to get a higher percentage of foreign tourists, who mainly want to see London, Bath, Oxford and Edinburgh - all over a 4 day period! Blackpool is totally geared to the cheaper end of domestic tourism so what incentive is there for foreign tourists to visit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Blackpool was only popular in the past because many people couldn't afford foreign holidays. These days if you can afford to go abroad then there is simply no reason to choose Blackpool for a beach holiday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I go every year to Blackpool with the family to see the lights. But the place is a tip, litter absolutely everywhere, including discarded food and even nappies. The bins were full to overflowing. Who wants to sit among that and have fish and chips?? Yes, the council are spending millions on the front, and it does look good, but who is going to care if it is all hidden under a mountain of rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I last visited Blackpool in August 2010 having not been for 15 years. I was met with foul mouthed families screaming at their kids, donkeys been marched along the beach and a huge group of men and women physically fighting (I was told by an elderly woman that they where 'P**sed Gypsys") Nice! Walking 20 yards off the main strip inland you have this dread that you may die here. Blackpool=Dire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Its not rocket science is it, If we had constant hot weather beach tourism would go up. we are surrounded by countries like france italy spain portugal... why would they pay to go to blackpool. There saved you loads of research.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Blackpool will be like Morcambe in 10 years time. A rip-off 'fun' fair, a mile off tacky shops and a sea-front of stinking mud, why would anyone want to travel there to visit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    #40 and others who misread my comment - I didn't say the sea was brown, I said that it had a brown froth on it, which is something altogether more unpleasant. I am quite aware of the effects of sediment on water colour but this doesn't explain the filth floating around on top of the water!!

  • Comment number 68.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Why isn't Blackpool marketed to foreign tourists?

    Because it's such a dump that even most brits wouldn't be seen dead there. I went once and will never go back, it's full of cheap nasty cafes, shops full of tat, nothing of any culture or of interest to owt but a chav, only over-priced nasty B&B and so-called hotels.
    It's an encapsulation of all that is wrong with the UK tourist industry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Ok, I live in Blackpool and yes there are many problems, but I do have to say that there are some significant signs of change. St.Johns Square, Birley Street with it's sound and lighting system. The Tower looks great after it's makeover. There are rough area's still, but there are in any town. And there are still at least 10 years more of development planned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I love Blackpool, especially for children but my main problem with Blackpool is the Pleasure Beach. I'm sorry but the state the economy is in & unemployment at it's highest, they are asking the average British family to pay close to £100 for spending the day, I would rather spend my money on a purpose built theme park. It's Far too expensive and I think Blackpool will suffer in the longterm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Why are people trying to compare the beaches of Blackpool? Of course Cornwall's beaches are better, but then I can go on to say that Northumberland's untouched and wild beaches beat Cornwall's hands down.
    Blackpool is a place to go for a nice weekend away. It's not glamorous, it's cosy and friendly. You go there to see somewhere new. I've been many exotic places in the world, and I love Blackpool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    "Ashamed of Blackpool" is definitely the right title for the article. I definitely would be if I was unfortunate enough to live there. I have friends there who don't have a good word to say and it's just shabby and run down and full or drunks on hen and stag dos. Why on earth would we want to advertise the place to foreign visitors.. it's just embarrassing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    46. Pam Crossland
    "one thing would be to bring forward the illumination switch-on to the summer"

    Doh! you can't see them until its dark!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Wow, so much negativity from people on their high-horses. You complain about drunks and rowdy behaviour, but this is in no way a problem unique to Blackpool - look at the British in Magaluf. Amazing that so many English (especially Southern English) can look upon Blackpool the way they do - don't they realise that foreigners look upon the English as a whole in the same way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    What tourist in their right mind would go to Britain on a beach holiday?

    When tourists come to Britain they come for the old pomp and culture British history is lauded for. They come for castles, palaces and the remnants of an empire.

    Why waste your pounds on a British beach resort when Spain and Portugal are just around the corner?


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