There has been a lot of talk recently about how the visitor economy is performing in the city region, especially after the severe blow it has taken in the last 18 months through the pandemic. As always with such a complex sector, there isn’t a simple tell-all statistic that we can see in real time, but we thought it may be useful to give an overview given the conversations we regularly have with people across the sector.
The state of play
Anyone who has been in the city in recent months can see immediately how busy the streets are, and figures back this up. Liverpool BID Company publishes footfall data on its website on a weekly basis, and through August figures were consistently 22-23% higher than the equivalent weeks in August 2020 – which itself was a busy month as the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme brought people back to the city centre in droves.
To get a real sense of where tourism is though, we must compare the 2021 stats to the same time in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. The BID have reported that footfall numbers are actually slightly higher than in 2019, particularly driven by an increase in numbers coming for nightlife.
As for attractions, the feedback we’ve had paints a picture of decent numbers but really impacted by the lack of international tourism. A good example is seen at The Beatles Story, one of the most popular attractions in the city. The team have worked on a lot of domestic activity, including our campaigns, and this has resulted in steadily higher numbers of UK visitors than ever before (18% higher than the equivalent period in 2019). However, the huge reduction in numbers of international visitors means that their overall numbers remain down on pre-pandemic levels.
This tallies with the findings from our marketing campaigns in recent months. Back in May we launched Get Away to it All, a campaign encouraging visits from target areas such as Yorkshire, the Midlands and London. This had a great response, and now the city features front and centre of VisitEngland’s national advertising campaign. Through analytics on visitliverpool.com, we have seen the strong levels of interest from around the UK, especially in what to do when visiting over the summer months.
With many people coming to the city region from elsewhere in the UK, hotels are also reporting a very strong August. We spoke to a sample of 13 hotels across the city on how August 2021 compared with 2019. The feedback was very positive overall, with several reporting increased revenue due to higher room rates.
The challenges we face
However, the picture isn’t completely rosy and there are several worrying signs. One of the biggest factors affecting the industry surrounds staffing. Many businesses are struggling to attract enough staff to meet demand – part of this is due to many people leaving the sector during the pandemic, and also because of the impact of Brexit on EU nationals, who play a significant role in the city’s visitor economy. This ‘perfect storm’ has meant that many hotels, restaurants and attractions simply can’t operate at 100% capacity.
There also remain some infrastructure challenges, especially at night when the city has been particularly busy. Again we see demand outstripping supply, which has led to tensions running high at taxi ranks, fast food shops and other busy points.
By many metrics, Liverpool has been outperforming other cities in the UK throughout July and August. This success was driven by the leisure market, particularly 18-34 year olds, and underlines Liverpool’s popularity as a city for millennials. But early signs are that this demand is softening throughout September – November, as consumer confidence wavers due to Covid. Combined with the absence of international groups and corporate travel, there’s a danger of occupancy struggling a lot more through autumn, particularly in midweek.
We will continue to monitor how the industry performs and report back to give an overview. We’d love more businesses in the visitor economy to share with us how they are performing and what the sentiment is; the more information we have, the more we can try to help, so if you’d like to have a chat please let us know.