Brighton – supporting the visitor economy
Brighton and Hove City Council has been prioritising the area's visitor economy. The establishment of VisitBrighton, with an effective business partnership to support it, has created a strong partnership and delivery focus.
Key lessons for other councils
- Good intelligence is fundamental to ensure that the needs and expectations of visitors, businesses and residents are addressed.
- Involving local businesses in the decision-making process creates greater engagement in and commitment to service planning and delivery.
- Embedding the visitor economy in key strategic documents increases its significance, but effective place management and development is vital.
- Ensure that evidence is used to help and guide decision making but where perfect information is not available, action should not be stopped.
- Engage with residents, visitors and businesses and let them guide decisions: let stakeholders make some of those decisions.
- Invest in a team approach to servicing visitors as part of a whole city approach.
- Be prepared to take risks but make sure that senior managers and councillors are aware of those risks.
Brighton and Hove City Council was created in 1997 and is a unitary authority. Tourism has always played a significant role in the development of the city and is likely to be a significant feature of any future development.
Brighton is a historic and traditional seaside resort that has been attracting visitors for more than 250 years. Lately, it has developed into a city by the sea with a vibrant, cosmopolitan urban area.
The city has a population of 251,000 and attracts around eight million visitors a year, including about 1.7 million overnight visitors. The value to the local economy is estimated to be £408 million and supports 13,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.
Around 60 per cent of the income from tourism comes from just 17 per cent of the visitors. This creates a particular challenge to improve the value of visitors to benefit the local community.
Tourist activity is based around three main markets:
- business, particularly conferences
- leisure – couples or groups
- language students.
The main visitor offer is the seafront, the Royal Pavilion, the Lanes and North Lane shopping areas. In addition, there are its theatres, events, festivals and the night-time scene.
Over the last 10 years, the number of international visitors has increased, particularly in the last year, due to the weakness of the pound. The domestic market has grown too, accelerating over the last 12 months. This growth is driven by product development and the delivery of a successful high-profile events programme.
Twenty per cent of all employment in the town is related to tourism. With a growing and younger population, there will be a need for 8-10,000 new jobs. Tourism will need to grow, too, to help service that need.
Who was involved?
Partnership and consultation is one of the guiding principles of the Sustainable Community strategy and the strategy for the visitor economy. It is at the heart of VisitBrighton's work.
Three semi-formal groups help in this process: a marketing forum, a hotels group and a language school group.
More than 300 businesses from Brighton and the surrounding East Sussex area are involved in the partnership. It is helping to shape priorities and deliver some of the strategic actions.
The Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership is also a significant group for the visitor economy. There are close links between the partnership and VisitBrighton.
Because the visitor economy is recognised as important and is a corporate priority there is good informal inter-departmental engagement in relevant issues.
External organisations have a role to play in creating a successful destination. They are regularly consulted with on an informal basis. They include:
- the police
- the fire service
- the primary care trust (PCT)
- clubs and voluntary organisations.
The problems and how we tackled them
The tourism and visitor economy activity is based on the VICE principles to ensure that ‘Visitors are welcome, the Industry is profitable, the Community benefits and the Environment is enhanced.'
The main drivers for action are:
- consumers and the changing market
- increased competition
- the needs of the local community, particularly for employment.
Action is, therefore, based on:
- refreshing the product and product development, including redeveloping the Brighton Centre conference venue and regenerating surrounding areas
- destination management issues to improve safety, security and welcome
- improving the cultural and events programme
- trying to create a balance between the different market sectors
- satisfying local needs.
Decisions are also firmly based on market intelligence with the focus on satisfying visitor needs.
A clear system of performance monitoring is in place backed by a number of target indicators. Surveys of visitor and resident satisfaction are part of the process as are more recently initiated resident focus groups.
The conference market, due to increased competition and ageing facilities, is static and the majority of the activity is repeat business. Brighton's target for 2020 is to become known as ‘Europe's best meeting destination', ‘Britain's first world-class seaside destination' and ‘England's favourite creative city'.
Brighton uses the ArkLeisure segmentation. The target segment for the domestic market is ‘cosmopolitans'.
‘Cosmopolitans' are strong, active confident individuals who are comfortable to try things out of the ordinary.
Tourism is part of the Culture and Enterprise directorate, one of six engaged in delivering services for the city. Its activities are given a distinctive consumer profile and identity by being delivered under the VisitBrighton branding.
VisitBrighton is still an integral part of the local authority but works in close association with a broad range of partners involved in the visitor economy.
As tourism is at the heart of the city's economy its significance is reflected in the key strategic documents. It figures strongly in the Sustainable Community strategy (SCS) under the heading of ‘Promoting enterprise and learning'.
It also features in a range of other corporate strategies and the local development framework (LDF). A separate ‘Strategy for the visitor economy' provides the detailed framework for action up to 2018.
There is a cabinet member for culture and tourism and one for enterprise and major projects. This indicates how fully the visitor economy is embedded into corporate activity.
Outcomes and impacts
- The creation of VisitBrighton has helped to provide a clear focus for visitor activity.
- Clarity about customer needs and expectations has ensured that action is directed towards meeting those needs.
- A genuine approach to partnership has helped to secure a greater buy in resulting in a more positive engagement with local businesses.
- Developing and improving the events and cultural offer has broadened the market appeal and helped to reduce seasonality.
A recent new initiative is the 'Greeters' scheme, a worldwide initiative that has been adapted for the city as a way of securing greater community involvement. The project is based on local volunteers providing a bespoke, pre-booked – through VisitBrighton – introduction and welcome to the town on a two to four-hour walking tour.
The volunteers are trained, ‘branded' and operate out of the Tourist Information Centres (TICs). They provide a visible reminder of the importance of tourism and help local people to understand its value. They also spread the benefits of tourism throughout the city. Ten volunteers are currently involved and it is hoped to double the number and make them more independent of the council.
17 July 2012