Bolton – valuing partnerships in the visitor economy
Bolton Council has a strong corporate ethic and collaborative partnership activity, both internally and externally. This has allowed the area's visitor economy to gain credibility and strength.
Key lessons for other councils
- Genuine partnership working internally, inside the organisation, and externally in the borough with tourism businesses is essential to success.
- Working with external bodies can help to harness other skills and financial resources to assist with marketing, training and development.
- Having a clear ‘brand' and ambitious vision has helped create credibility internally and externally.
Bolton has a population of 262,800. The council is rated a four star local authority under comprehensive performance assessment (CPA), and is ‘improving well'.
Bolton Council was created as a metropolitan borough in 1974 and is part of the Greater Manchester conurbation. Bolton is a non-traditional visitor destination. Its proximity to Manchester and its sporting events, conference and shopping offer, however, generates significant visitor numbers.
In 2008 it received some 9,561,000 day and 673,000 overnight visitors. Their expenditure is estimated to have been worth £507 million to the local economy. It has generated around 7,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs - Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor (STEAM).
The problems and how we tackled them
Bolton recognises its importance as part of the Greater Manchester conurbation. It is working with Marketing Manchester and Visit Manchester to help initiate and deliver projects of mutual benefit.
This approach promotes stronger, practical joint working and knowledge sharing arrangements and helps support key industry groups. It also helps support and generate business for Bolton-based enterprises in both the conference and leisure fields.
Product knowledge trips for the council and Visit Manchester and Marketing Manchester staff are also helping to improve awareness of Bolton's tourism product. This involves all departments, including finance and human resources (HR).
Locally, the Tourism Forum, originally established as the public-private sector strategic body for tourism, has now been replaced by two groups. One covers the accommodation sector and the other covers attractions and venues. The groups meet twice a year individually and collectively to allow for communication exchange and networking.
Information centres, communications, marketing events and business support are handled corporately, rather than in a traditional tourism department. This requires effective collaboration internally and a shared corporate ethic.
The director of Development and Regeneration sits on the Bolton Vision partnership. Tourism activity is reported to the Bolton Strategic Economic partnership.
Traditionally, Bolton has attracted older visitors. The increasing significance of the retail, events, sporting and cultural offer is, though, creating a shift towards a younger market.
In general, the majority of visitors come from areas between one and two hours' drive time. This includes areas elsewhere in Greater Manchester, from Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and North Wales.
However, Bolton is now exploring the potential of the Indian market. The Manchester Investment Development Agency Service (MIDAS) and Visit Manchester are involved. This reflects the fact that Bolton has the largest Indian community in the North West of England.
The ambitions for the borough are clearly set out in the Bolton Vision local partnership document – the Sustainable Community strategy. It is delivered through the Bolton plan – the Corporate strategy. The visitor economy is not overtly mentioned in these strategic documents but then neither is any other economic sector.
The Bolton Vision, though, informed by a dynamic brand strategy is predicated by a commitment to secure economic prosperity, narrow the inequalities gap and transform services to drive down costs and raise customer satisfaction. It has been clearly recognised that the visitor economy has a role to play in delivering that vision.
Traditional barriers between services have been broken down to ensure the delivery of high-quality services and effective place management.
Tourism is part of the portfolio of the executive member for development, regeneration and skills. They are a strong champion for the management and development of the visitor economy.
Bolton's five-year Tourism Development plan, produced in 2006, provides the strategic and action framework for tourism.
The Tourism Development plan aims to help deliver the overall vision of Bolton as "a great place to grow up, live, learn, work, do business and visit". It makes full use of the ‘brand strategy' adopted for the borough.
Outcomes and impact
Over the last seven years there has been:
- a 22 per cent increase in tourism expenditure.
- a 28 per cent increase in tourist numbers.
- an 18 per cent increase in FTE's supported by tourism.
Some of the increase is thought to be due to the development, in 1997, of Middlebrook. This is a shopping, entertainment, sports, events and accommodation complex. Together with the town centre, the complex is considered to be the flagship for the Bolton's tourism offer.
Other experiences on offer include the areas industrial and built heritage and its proximity to attractive countryside. Bolton is often used as a base to stay.
The council now uses a team approach in the organisation and delivery of events. This embraces a wider range of skills and has helped to grow the scale and effectiveness of those events.
The council seconds its tourism officer to ‘Visit Manchester' for one day a week. This helps to ensure that the council is:
- directly engaged with Visit Manchester
- is kept fully up-to-date with activities and emerging initiatives
- is benefitting from a process of mutual support and understanding.
The strategic issues and priorities of both organisations are fully understood by each other. They can be taken into account as part of the decision-making process. The costs of the secondment are met by the council.
In addition, the council has a clear, comprehensive, corporate vision and approach towards place management. This has ensured that the significance of the visitor economy is recognised and embraced as an integral part of overall service delivery.
Collaborative working across departments has added value to the development of events and cultural activities.
Effective partnership working with Marketing Manchester has provided access to additional skills, capacity and resources which have helped to generate business and stimulate activity.
Priorities are to:
- strengthen Bolton's tourism ‘product'
- promote and reposition the Bolton ‘brand'
- make it easy to come to and travel around Bolton
- provide a quality experience
- ensure effective partnerships and communication.
The intention is to grow the MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions – market. Also to:
- broaden the range of visitors
- build on and develop the existing events
- improve the quality of the product
- capitalise on the borough's varied strengths.
Page published February 2010
17 July 2012