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Bright outlook for Glasgow tourism

Back to work after a summer holiday spent mostly in Berlin making stuttering attempts to learn the language, and listening acutely to the discussion of all matters Greece.

Now is the ideal time to say a few words about the impact of the Commonwealth Games on Glasgow’s tourism. The legacy from the Games comes in many forms, whether that be new business contracts for our members or the longer term regeneration of the East End. But at the top of our list of the desired legacy effects is a sustained boost to our leisure visitor trade.

Of course it’s pretty obvious that our retail, leisure and hospitality businesses would all welcome more customers, but alongside that motivation is the increase in demand that inbound leisure visitors could bring to our rail and air transport networks.

Growing the list of route destinations from Glasgow Airport would help all of our business community in connecting to overseas markets. More inbound leisure visitors makes new routes more viable. And increasing rail demand helps underpin the case for investment in our rail services like the West Coast Main Line and the potential for HS2.

But I would also argue that there is a history lesson to consider. Take a look back to 1999, Glasgow’s Year of Architecture and Design.   The Office of National Statistics reported in its International Passenger Survey that Glasgow was the fourth most visited city or town in the country. We welcomed some 520,000 overseas visitors to the city. We were a nudge ahead of Birmingham who had 500,000 visitors and only 20,000 behind Manchester.

Today the picture is rather different. Looking at the most recent figures for 2014, Glasgow now sits in fifth place on 622,000 visitors, boosted by the Commonwealth Games. But we are over 300,000 behind both Manchester and Birmingham, with both coming close to a million visitors. And Liverpool had been ahead of Glasgow up until the Games.    That’s not where we should be.

The ONS always suggest we treat the figures cautiously as they are based on samples, but the trends and the scale of the trends has been consistent for many years. Against a Manchester or a Birmingham we should not be anywhere near as far behind.

Our performance in attracting overseas business visitors is not the issue. Glasgow City Marketing Bureau has been exemplary in attracting business conferences to the city as local hotels will testify. No it’s simply that we don’t have the volume of steady overseas leisure visitors and the Games is the opportunity to crack that.

Manchester held its own successful Commonwealth Games in 2002 and you might remember that it rained a lot. Despite that the following year saw Manchester grew its tourism by 180,000, and apart from a knock from the 2008 Great Recession, it has never really looked back.

Is Glasgow going to get a similar impact?

Well initial signs are promising. Glasgow Airport’s July figures are just out and they show a 13.7% growth in traffic over July 2014 when the Games were being held. Within that overseas visitors increased even faster at 15.3%. I should always acknowledge that this growth would not be possible were it not for the fantastic work of the Airport team, who have secured over 20 new routes overseas this year alone including Halifax, Nova Scotia, Munich and Budapest. It looks like demand is growing too. Glasgow Airport has been one of the fastest growing airports in Europe during the first six months of 2015, and it has now had nine months of double digit expansion.

How much of this is inbound leisure tourism is less easy to say but a look at the hotel occupancy figures in the city suggests that there is good news coming. The most recent BDO UK trends report has Glasgow’s June 2015 occupancy at a very robust 91%, giving it the fourth highest occupancy in the UK. Room yield grew by a remarkable 21% over the year.

And there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. We have the best city marketing bureau in the country and the Hydro has opened up a completely new offer for major events and conference business. The city has barely taken a breath in its work to secure more business. In July we had the IPC World Swimming Championships and we now this week have the great news that the Emirates Arena will host the Davis Cup semi-final tennis between Great Britain and Australia in mid-September - with Manchester missing out due to a clash with a rock concert at the Manchester Arena.

In October we host the World Gymnastics Championships over 10 days, with over 600 gymnasts from 91 countries including the USA, China, Germany, Russia and Japan. Looking further ahead the 2018 European Sports Championships will be jointly hosted with Berlin, which is where I began this blog.

By that time, if we follow Manchester’s example, Glasgow should have at least 400,000 more overseas visitors per annum than we do today. That’s worth achieving.

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