IT’S the first big test of the shape of things to come – a break which marks the beginning of the 2012 season for new look Blackpool.
Those in the know – hoteliers and tourism traders – have long argued the season starts proper with the Spring Bank Holiday, with Easter the traditional curtain raiser.
But try telling that to the visitors heading to town this week to make the most of the break in the bleak midwinter weather and check out what’s happening here for themselves.
So what do Blackpool’s early season visitors make of it all?
There couldn’t be a better place to ask than on the new Comedy Carpet. What do you think of it so far?
Well, the good news is, only residents tend to rubbish the regeneration of Blackpool.
Talk to visitors and they will tell you Blackpool is on the up. They like what they see and will be back for more.
Jonathan Swire and Kim Hopkinson, over from Stockport for the day, are big fans of Blackpool. Jonathan admits: “We find it quite a romantic place. Especially now. The Promenade looks great. But we know the town and come every year and even see the lights. Blackpool needs to preach to the non-converted.
“You’ve got to get that message across to people who maybe stopped because of the stags and hens, or when it all got a bit grotty. You also need to tell people once here just what’s happening within the town. We knew it was free to go in the Tower but we didn’t know Showzam! was on, for instance.
“But the biggest thing is to tell them Blackpool is back.”
Not that it ever really went away. And there is a brand new tourist information centre just yards away from the Comedy Carpet within Festival House – the new seafront wedding chapel – along with a satellite TIC within the Winter Gardens, promoting the freaky geeky, downright witty, burlesque offerings within the week-long early season opener of Showzam! which already looks set to return next year.
Jonathan and Kim also suggest greater emphasis by new stand alone promotion company Marketing Blackpool on online marketing, viral campaigns and special offers.
Kim adds: “We have spotted the Pleasure Beach advert but nothing else about Blackpool. And the biggest mistake the Pleasure Beach made was charging a walk on fee. It must have alienated many people.
“Jon loves the rides, I don’t go on them but I used to go with him and buy other things while there. We don’t do that now. The price is too steep if you’re not riding on anything.”
Champions of the pink pound Steve Williams, 43, and Liam Morby, 27, from Liverpool, love the town’s new look attractions.
Steve adds: “I like Blackpool so much I moved here. It’s a very gay-friendly town, they have even turned the top of the Tower into the rainbow flag. We love the wedding chapel, we love the fact you can go into the Tower for free and we’ve checked out Showzam! That’s great, like going back to the good old days of the Golden Mile.”
But Liam adds: “I live in Liverpool, one of the traditional catchment areas for Blackpool, and come because I know the town. I don’t see adverts for it very often. In the old days it was never off telly – in the holiday shows and all sorts. You need more of that exposure. There also need to be more online deals. Blackpool is looking brilliant – you need to shout about it.”
There’s a big vote of confidence from three families visiting Blackpool from Leeds, led by Tracy Staniforth (mum of Lewis, nine, and Jacob, five), Alison Stainsby (mum of Thomas, 13) and Lynn Hackett (mum of Amy, seven and Joshua, 10).
Lynn explains: “We’ve come by train, it’s about two and a half hours away, and easier than driving and parking and paying. We all love Blackpool and it’s had bad times but looks really good now.
“We saw the opening of the new rides at the Sandcastle on telly and heard about the royal visit. But it would be good to see more offers, in papers, on telly or online.”
Tracy says: “We all came here as kids and now bring our own. We stopped coming when it got run down but have started coming again in the last two years.”
All five kids in the extended brood are fascinated by Festival House – the combined special occasions venue and TIC with a restaurant awaiting operator.
They are also keen to see what Amy calls the “ice rink” – the Comedy Carpet – but Blackpool’s most enduring attraction, the beach, is their favourite, paddling and all, even at this time of year.
“You get cold feet but it’s good,” says Joshua who wants a soft play area installed on the Promenade for kids. Lewis would like to visit the Pleasure Beach, funds permitting, Amy would like to go up the Tower, Jacob would like to come back for the Lights – 100 years old.
As for Thomas? “I’d rather go to America.” “He’s 13,” mum Alison points out, apologetically. “Sorry Blackpool.”