2011 was billed as Blackpool’s big year.
With millions of pounds of investment finally coming to fruition, hopes were high of a tourism revival on a major scale.
Overall visitor numbers remained steady at 10 million – on a par with the same time last year.
However, official figures released today from Visit Blackpool claimed 60 per cent of visitors stayed overnight during the peak summer holiday period – a rise on 2010.
“Out of five million visits to Blackpool, between May and August, 56 per cent of them involved at least a one night stopover,” a Visit Blackpool spokesman said.
Visitors to the resort for the October half-term week in 2011 was more than 200 per cent higher than the same half-term week last year and more than 500 per cent higher than the same week in 2009.
Hoteliers today reported an up and down season in a year which has contrasted continuing national financial pressures and major new attraction launches.
Those attractions bosses who showed confidence to invest, say it has paid off. Iain Hawkins, head of Merlin’s Blackpool Cluster, said: “We opened Madame Tussaud’s at Easter and that has gone through the roof – 25 per cent up on expectation.
“The Sea Life Centre has benefited because of multiple combination ticket sales so volume has been driven up there as well.
“Our attractions inside The Tower have not been open long but half-term exceeded all our expectations on volume and we had huge queues.”
Pleasure Beach chiefs said, despite a tough season, the fun park was up four per cent on last year.
spokesman said: “While trading conditions in the leisure market remain difficult, especially given the present economic climate combined with disappointing weather during the summer, Pleasure Beach is four per cent up on last season.
“The opening of Nickelodeon Land in April has had a fantastic response from visitors. We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of guests enjoying rides in this area of Pleasure Beach.”
Blackpool Zoo is reporting a record breaking year with visitor numbers up three per cent compared to last year. Marketing manager Della Belk said: “It has been the busiest year in the zoo’s 39 year history, which is fantastic.
“As well as every day visitors, our school visits and membership numbers also continue to rise. We believe this is a result of our on-going investment in the facilities and we work hard to ensure people always have a reason to return to the zoo. More investment is planned for 2012 as we gear up for our 40th anniversary.”
John Child, managing director of Sandcastle Waterworld, said the water park was on track to match its best year which was in 2009, with around 290,000 people visiting the complex this financial year.
He said: “You have to work hard to get people in, and that’s what we’ve done. You have to give people a quality experience.”
The Illuminations Switch On with Keith Lemon, brought in 66 per cent more people than 2010 and more than 60,000 more visitors enjoyed the four-week World Fireworks Championships.
Natalie Wyatt, head of Visit Blackpool said: “It’s extremely pleasing attendances at some of our key annual events have risen so greatly.
“We hope this trend continues as more people take advantage of the fantastic events visitBlackpool stage each year.”
While the attractions have seen visitor numbers go up, it would appear much of that volume is from day trippers.
The Illuminations have had their critics this year – many upset by the standard – but it appears for many it has provided the late boost they were invented to give.
Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said while the season had got off to a good start, the main summer period had been disappointing with many accommodation owners once more relying on the Illuminations to save the day.
She said: “With all the new attractions opening expectations were high, but while the beginning of the year until May was good, things took a dive after that.
“I think that was when the cutbacks started to hit and the poor state of the economy made people careful with their money. Thank goodness we did have Merlin and Nickelodeon or it would have been a lot worse.
“But since September, things have picked up and once more the Illuminations has pulled people in. During October half-term the town was chock-a-block and people were begging for rooms.”
BLACKPOOL’S SEASON IN THE SPOTLIGHT