Blackpool’s Illuminations helped save the resort’s 2013 season with four million people visiting the town for a trip through the Lights.
Exclusive figures revealed today show 10 million adults came to the resort during the whole of last year – down from 10.3 million the previous year.
The figures, released by Blackpool Council, show a disappointing spring with numbers down to 2.5 million between January and April 2013, compared to 2.9 million for the same period in 2012.
During the summer (May to August), 3.5 million adults visited the resort in 2013, compared to 3.7 million in 2012.
But the autumn period from September to December, which includes the Illuminations, saw numbers rise to four million, compared to 3.7 million the previous year, giving the resort a much-needed shot in the arm.
Overnight stays during the Illuminations are also up, with 42 per cent of visitors staying at least one night, compared to 36 per cent in 2012. Last year saw the Lights extended from nine weeks to 10, after attractions operator Merlin stepped in to pay for the extra week – which will happen again this year.
The council said the autumn visitor figures were the best since survey records began in 2009.
And that was despite controversy surrounding Switch-On night when just 5,000 people turned up for the annual concert – headlined at the last minute by Gary Barlow – many blaming high ticket prices .
Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism and leisure on Blackpool Council, said: “I am delighted we have seen an increase in visits.
“The 2013 autumn season benefited from an additional week of Illuminations at the start of November and also from positive TV coverage generated by Blackpool hosting a heat of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.
“An increase in overnight stays is also very pleasing.
“The Blackpool Resort Pass was launched last year to encourage visitors to stay longer and it has already been reported 67 per cent of those surveyed who bought the pass did stay for four nights or more.
“This is all really encouraging news but we cannot rest on our laurels.
“Many, many people in the resort work incredibly hard to attract these visitors and we must continue to work together to maintain and hopefully see our visitor numbers increase further.”
The figures have been collected through the independent Omnibus Survey carried out among 4,000 households in Britain.
Philip Welsh, head of marketing services at Blackpool Council which includes tourism, said bad weather and an early Easter were partly to blame for the poor spring visitor numbers.
He added: “The weather wasn’t fantastic in the first three or four months, and that didn’t get us off to the best possible start, but these figures show the Illuminations are such an important part of the overall tourist season.
“One of our challenges is still to convert day trips to overnight stays because that’s where the economic impact comes in.”
Tourism leaders have welcomed the figures.
Iain Hawkins, boss of the Merlin cluster of attractions in Blackpool including The Tower, Madame Tussauds and the Sea Life Centre, said: “There is nowhere else in the UK which can extend its season to the start of November.
“That’s very important to the town, and we all have to step up and ensure the Illuminations have an even brighter future. It would be an absolute disaster if we ever did lose them.”
Shirley Hunt, of The Friends of the Illuminations, said: “I thought the display was excellent this year, and every year we are trying to improve them.
“I think the introduction of the Illuminations phone app, which gave information about the displays, was also a success.
“It just shows how businesses must put money into the Illuminations fund so we can invest in the displays.”
As well as the Illuminations, the World Fireworks Championships are also held over four weeks in September, and they will be held again this year.
The survey also showed 25 per cent of autumn visitors cited the lights as their primary reason for coming to Blackpool.
Overall visitor satisfaction ratings for the four month period in 2013 stood at 88 per cent, compared to 84 per cent in 2012.
Coun Cain added: “It is important to note the figures only represent adult visitors.
“Blackpool is a family resort and, in particular, the Illuminations attract vast numbers of families, therefore the actual number of people visiting will far exceed the four million recorded.”
Jeanette Davies, who runs the Blenheim Mount hotel, on the Promenade, said: “It was cold at the beginning of the year and that had a really bad impact. Once we got to summer we did better.
“But although the Illuminations weren’t bad, it’s not as good as it used to be. We are hoping this year is going to be better now the recession is supposed to be over.”
Barbara Whalley, owner of the Craig-y-Don hotel, on the Promenade, said: “We were full all season. We can fill the hotel and we do well but it’s a constant battle because competition is fierce.
“Often guests are only coming for three nights and don’t want to pay for a seven-day resort pass.”
Simon Connelly, who owns the New Guilderoy Hotel, on Holmfield Road, North Shore, said visitor figures are not high enough to sustain all the resorts hotels.
He said: “Unless major action is taken, I think this town is finished. Although we were extremely busy we felt it was the worst season in the nine years we’ve been here.”