Town’s new tourism tsar not resting on laurels

Philip Welsh, head of marketing services at Blackpool Council.
Philip Welsh, head of marketing services at Blackpool Council.
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With a West End musical and a Chinese-inspired lights show set for Blackpool this year – the town’s new tourism boss looks to have two winners on his hands already. But Philip Welsh, who has taken on the role of promoting the resort, will certainly not be resting on his laurels.

He has been appointed head of marketing services at Blackpool Council, following the decision of previous tourism chief Natalie Wyatt to move on to pastures new.

The tourism service, which was operated by Marketing Blackpool for two years, has been taken back in-house by the council, but the gains made in improving partnerships with the private sector will continue to be built on says Mr Welsh,

After 30 years in the newspaper industry – including 10 years as managing director of The Gazette – he joined Blackpool Council’s tourism and regeneration team seven years ago.

During that time his achievements have included supporting hoteliers wanting to improve the quality of their accommodation and helping develop the town’s Business Leadership Group.

He said: “The principle Marketing Blackpool had of working with the private sector to drive the visitor economy and the wider economy is exactly the same.

“We have worked successfully with our attractions on initiatives like the Resort Pass, and we’ve spoken to the Business Leadership Group, which has about 150 members, about Mamma Mia! coming to the town for instance.

“It is about making sure businesses out in the retail economy or service industries can also capitalise on what a big long-running show can bring to Blackpool.

“It’s not just hotels – if we are bringing that amount of people into Blackpool each night, it creates all sorts of opportunities for the town.”

It has just been announced Mamma Mia! is to be extended by two weeks such has been the demand for tickets.

The success of the run at the Opera House is also critical in terms of attracting other big shows for future summer seasons.

Also set for the Winter Gardens, is the £4m indoor lights show Illuminasia, inspired by China and already a proven 
success in America.

Work is already underway to construct the features for Blackpool’s unique version, which will open this spring in the Olympia buildings.

Meanwhile the Resort Pass, of which almost a million pounds worth were sold in its first year, is back.

Mr Welsh said: “The Resort Pass will be the same format as last year. We are getting an enormous amount of interest from attractions that want to be part of it.

“There is no question the Resort Pass was one of the successes of last year.

“It is a relatively new concept in this country and the feedback we have been getting is that those who are taking it up, are staying over with overnight stays averaging four nights per pass sold.”

The challenge of encouraging more visitors to book into a hotel for the night, weekend or hopefully a week or two, is a priority.

Statistics for last year, show while between September and December staying visitors increased to 42 per cent from 36 per cent the previous year, for the rest of 2013 the picture was less rosy.

During the main summer months, 35 per cent of visitors stayed over.

Mr Welsh hopes initiatives like bringing in Mamma Mia! and the Resort Pass will help reverse the trend throughout the year, but believes the key is to market Blackpool as a whole destination.

He said: “We are talking about marketing Blackpool as a destination and using television as a potential platform for that.

“In the last few years we have been more event specific but things like the Illuminations are part of the whole destination.

“The Illuminations Switch-On is important for generating PR and a sense of excitement and lets the world know the Illuminations are on, but it is the curtain-raiser and in terms of the economic impact on Blackpool, it is the Illuminations which are important to the town.”

As to what the framework will be for this year’s Switch-On ceremony, all he will say is different options are being looked at.

Last year’s ceremony sparked controversy when it emerged it made a loss of £372,109.

Singing star Gary Barlow stepped in after Irish band The Script were forced to pull out of performing ahead of chat show host Jonathan Ross flicking the switch.

Despite the shaky start, visitors poured in with more than four million adults visiting Blackpool between September and December last year.

Hopefully this will help draw in a sponsor for the Lights.

Currently the council ploughs in around £2m annually to the Illuminations but it has warned cutbacks will make it increasingly difficult to sustain that level of investment.

So finding more sponsorship is becoming increasingly urgent.

Mr Welsh said: “I have already made a presentation to the Business Leadership Group to spell out the importance of the Illuminations.

“There is an opportunity for businesses to raise their own profile so we are getting them to buy into that concept and have had a good response, but we are also working with national sponsors. We have a huge captive market of people going through 70 nights.

“We are working against a back drop of declining local authority resource so we need where possible to work with the private sector to shoulder some of the responsibility of sustaining the tourism economy.”