BLACKPOOL enjoyed its best summer season for four years with visitor numbers on the up – despite one of the wettest years on record.
Almost 12 million tourists have poured into town so far in 2012, with around seven million people defying the rain to visit the resort during the peak months between May and August.
While the proportion of overnight stays has fallen, the number of day-trippers has increased – with the beach and seafront still the main reason why people choose to come to Blackpool.
Tourism bosses say the figures, which also show satisfaction ratings are at a record high, reinforce “Blackpool’s status as the UK’s most popular holiday destination.”
Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism and culture at Blackpool Council, said: “This survey is extremely positive news for the visitor economy.”
“The weather for significant parts of the summer holidays was awful – and yet Blackpool has attracted more than 1.7 million additional visits compared to last year.
“It is particularly encouraging to see such high satisfaction ratings.
“These ratings and the growth in the overall number of visits reinforce Blackpool’s status as the UK’s most popular holiday destination.
“The fact people are flocking here to visit the new Promenade and free attractions such as the Comedy Carpet demonstrates the substantial investment that has been made in Blackpool’s seafront is now paying off.”
The figures – from the Omnibus survey which is carried out three times a year and is based on more than 4,000 household interviews across the UK – also show 11.89 million people visited Blackpool between January and August this year, up from 10.57m last year.
For the four months between May and August, 6.96 million people visited, up from 5.23 million last year – an increase of 1.7 million.
At the same time, visitor satisfaction ratings for the resort have risen to a record high of 95 per cent, compared to 90 per cent for the same time last year.
Last year, 56 per cent of summer visitors stayed at least one night, but in 2012 that figure dropped to 42 per cent.
Initiatives aimed at boosting trade this year have included the launch of the Blackpool Resort Pass which gives people access to the Pleasure Beach and some Merlin attractions for a fixed price as well as Merlin’s own Big Ticket discount pass.
More than a fifth of people – 22 per cent – say the main draw is Blackpool’s beach and seafront, while 16 per cent said they came for the Pleasure Beach.
Other family friendly attractions including The Tower and Blackpool Zoo were the main draw for 14 per cent of visits, while entertainment and nightlife attracted 11 per cent.
The rise is despite heavy rain which washed out events including the outdoor Olympic celebrations, and curtailed a concert by Elton John – both curtain-raisers for the new Tower Festival Headland.
According to the Met Office, double the average rain – 121mm – fell in Blackpool during June, making it the second wettest June since records began.
Natalie Wyatt, managing director of Marketing Blackpool, said: “There is no denying the weather over the summer this year has been pretty dismal for most of the country.
“But people don’t just visit Blackpool to sunbathe.
“We are in a fortunate position that we have a large number of indoor and outdoor attractions so whatever the weather, our many millions of visitors are always guaranteed a great time.
“And with the launch this year of the Blackpool Resort Pass, which gives visitors access to five top attractions over seven days at a huge discount, we are continually looking at ways to offer our visitors as much value for money as possible and this will return in 2013.
“We also work extremely hard to ensure we have a year-round events calendar so where other resorts may rely on the sunshine or a particular attraction, in Blackpool we ensure our visitors are entertained as much as possible and on many occasions, absolutely free of charge.”
Hoteliers leader Gary Pretty said more needed to be done to encourage people to stay overnight.
Mr Pretty, chairman of the Blackpool Combined Association, said: “A couple of our members have gone out of business this year and there are others who are struggling and will be closing.
“What can we do? We can’t go any lower on price.
“We are getting our regular visitors but we need to get new visitors to stay overnight.
“The Big Ticket is a good idea and perhaps we need to push that more, and build hotel packages round it.
“The Illuminations Switch-on was great this year, but it would help the hoteliers if the star was announced earlier.”
Marketing Blackpool is funded by Blackpool Council which yesterday announced it must make £13.6m in savings.
This includes a cut of £100,000 from next year’s Marketing Blackpool budget which this year was £2.1m.
The visitor figures for the period covering the Illuminations will not be available until early 2013.