How Blackpool's free events programme - including Christmas by the Sea, Illuminations and Air Show - has boosted tourism

Blackpool has one of the biggest event programmes of any UK seaside town
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Blackpool’s programme of free events has helped draw in huge visitor numbers during 2023 with massive crowds enjoying spectacles ranging from the Air Show to the World Fireworks Championships.

The resort has one of the biggest event programmes of any UK seaside town.Official figures for visitor numbers in 2023 are not available yet, but recently published figures from the STEAM report,  which analyses data from tourism and hospitality businesses, showed Blackpool welcomed just over 20 million visitors in 2022.

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The most recent tourism performance report for 2023 from the council says: “Against the backdrop of some of the economic factors affecting household spend, the almost universal appeal of these high-quality family events cannot be overstated.

“Over the past few months, we have seen record crowds at the Air Show, Switch-On, World Fireworks and Lightpool Festival.

“Last year, the Illuminations extension and Christmas By The Sea also delivered record footfall to the promenade during the winter months.”

Blackpool's Illuminations from a drone. Photo: Kelvin Lister-StuttardBlackpool's Illuminations from a drone. Photo: Kelvin Lister-Stuttard
Blackpool's Illuminations from a drone. Photo: Kelvin Lister-Stuttard

Blackpool Air Show – August

Mobile phone data showed footfall on the Promenade of 350,000 over the two days of the air show, which was an increase on the previous year.Highlights included displays by the Red Arrows and Typhoon, while there was also an Air Show Village on the Promenade including a Spitfire.

Ride the Lights – August

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More than 10,000 cyclists of all ages took the once-a-year opportunity to ride beneath the Illuminations on a traffic-free Promenade.Overspill parking was available at a pop-up car park at Blackpool Airport.

Illuminations Switch-On – September

The Switch-On returned to the outdoors for the first time since 2019 – attracting a huge crowd of more than 50,000 people, the biggest turnout in recent history.The free event included a Nickelodeon float parade, live entertainment, a specially-commissioned light show on The Tower and a fireworks finale.The parade, which made its way along the Golden Mile from Central Pier, featured characters from SpongeBob SquarePants, PAW Patrol, Baby Shark, Monsters High and Transformers, as well as around 100 street performers and a Lancashire-based marching band.Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor performed a medley of songs including her hit, Murder On The Dancefloor, before pulling the switch to trigger a four-month Illuminations season.

World Fireworks Championships – September and October

Around 50,000 people attended each of the three displays.A pyrotechnics team from India were crowned champions after staging their country’s first-ever display in the UK to a diverse selection of music including a taste of Bollywood.

The World Fireworks ChampionshipsThe World Fireworks Championships
The World Fireworks Championships

Lightpool Festival – October half-term

The festival included world premieres and installations never before seen in the UK, including artworks from Australia, France, the Netherlands and Spain.The Tower Ballroom hosted a performance of Carnival Magic with giant illuminated puppets, with the 1,000 free tickets snapped up in 12 minutes.The light festival is the only one in the UK to be a part of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio, ensuring funding support for the event until 2025.

Extended Illuminations

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The Illuminations season has been extended until the start of January for the third year.Last year this resulted in a 20 per cent increase in footfall compared to the previous year, and a 59 per cent increase compared to 2019 (pre-Covid).Funding of £4.5m from the Town Deal has enabled a ‘step-change’ in the quality of the annual display as well as important upgrades to the lighting infrastructure.


Last year, Christmas By The Sea, which is staged on the headland opposite The Blackpool Tower, delivered the highest visitor numbers ever recorded on the seafront during winter months.Figures show 6.4 million visitors, with a fifth travelling more than 100km to be there.The 2023 event, which has been expanded, has also proved a big draw for visitors.

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