MEET SUE FINNEGAN! LIVERPOOL’S BRILLIANT NEW ACTING HEAD OF VISITOR ECONOMY
Passionate, personable and particularly talented at forging lasting public and private partnerships, Sue Finnegan will likely be well known to almost all of our partners across Liverpool City Region’s vast travel and tourism landscape.
This month we’re very excited to tell you that Sue will soon be sharing her considerable strategic and creative talents on an even more expansive scale, leading the team here at Marketing Liverpool, by accepting our new position of ‘Acting Head of Visitor Economy’ following Marketing Liverpool Director, Chris Brown’s decision to begin the next phase of his impressive career.
Sue’s new role will see her supporting our Director of Culture, Claire McColgan CBE, by overseeing Liverpool’s destination marketing, convention bureau and business and leisure Tourism.
With a career that spans more than 20 years in senior positions, within the culture events industry, Sue’s stellar contribution to Liverpool over the years has helped shape and deliver many of our region’s most successful cultural events.
Deputy Event Manager for Liverpool’s 2008 Capital of Culture Opening Ceremony. Founder of ‘Taste Liverpool. Drink Bordeaux’ and strategic brand partnerships for all 3 of our ‘Giant’ spectaculars. Head of Commercial and Marketing for our city’s regular annual cultural events programme and, of course, a real high-flyer – last month’s spectacular Eurovison 2023 Host City Visitor Experience, which Sue headed up with typical aplomb.
Today I’m catching up with Sue, to find out more about her new role, her past success and her hopes for the future of Liverpool’s visitor economy. Sue is ready and raring for a new challenge, and she’s already hit the ground running…
Sue, firstly, congratulations on your new role. What attracted you to the position?
“Really, it was the sheer dynamism and international potential of Liverpool’s visitor economy and broader business and investment offer itself that attracted me to the role.
“When you couple that with the impressive portfolio of brands and influential remit Marketing Liverpool has, you begin to see the cohesive and collaborative potential that we have here. That was very exciting for me.
“Marketing Liverpool is an organisation that operates from an immense sense of pride. Liverpool just has something special, and Marketing Liverpool plays a vital role in communicating that to the world.”
How would you describe the special nature of Liverpool? I always enjoy hearing people’s different interpretations.
“Me too. Well, Liverpool has always been a place that’s inherently different to anywhere else on Earth and that’s shaped by many things, but most of all our people and communities; be it our innate entrepreneurial spirit, or our passionate creativity.
“What I particularly love about Liverpool is our openness and shared sense of fairness and generosity. We wear our hearts of our sleeves and people trust that. People admire it.
“These attributes are absolute gold dust, when it comes to delivering a memorably warm visitor experience. There’s also a healthy amount of risk takers here. People who are ambitious and ‘think big’. That’s a great quality to have, I’ve always thought.
You yourself are also regarded as someone who’s very open to new ideas and aiming higher.
“In the aggressively competitive, fast-changing destination marketplace, standing still is simply not an option. Liverpool is one of UK’s most powerful, globally recognised attack brands but this position isn’t forever granted, it needs to be earned again and again. We have to stand out. We have to always look ahead, and we have to aim-higher. We have the responsibility to do that. In this industry, Staying still gets stale fast.
Your new role has a broad remit of work. How would you describe the position?
“This role is about how we work together to unlock, maximise and capitalise on the opportunities that are both already happening and those we want to make happen. It’s about our ability to see around corners, listening to the data, intelligence and the voices of the very businesses and people whose livelihoods depend on the visitor economy.
“I believe that it’s imperative that we work closely with our private sector partners in a strategic and streamlined way, to deliver real business impacts and opportunities beyond the ‘show’ and spectacle.
“Yes, the remit is broad by necessity. The role carries significant convening power and that’s important because it helps us bring powerful people and entities together. Liverpool’s super-power is collaboration, and we are at our most effective when we are working together.
“I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic team of industry experts here on hand, and whilst I see my role as offering strategic leadership, like any good leader, I also see it as a position that relies on the talents of the people that have got us to where we are today.
You have assisted in the development and leadership of every major cultural event Liverpool has delivered, over the past decade. What project or moment are you most proud of?
“There are so many, but without a doubt Eurovision 2023 will go down as a true highlight of my career, so far. It’s a fantastic case study, in terms of how a city can come together in such a way, that the legacy will define Liverpool for the next decade and beyond, presenting a new model for success.
“I’ll never forget the sigh and sounds of the crowds singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ alongside our ‘Three Graces’, in support for Ukraine. It was an incredibly moving moment. The hairs are standing up on my arm now, thinking about it.
“Another highlight was last year’s ‘Taste Liverpool’. This was another totally unique event, where the city once again came together, under a shared programme of activity, to boost our visitor economy and promote our fantastic food culture to the world.
“Taste Liverpool positioned our restaurants and diverse, cultural food scene as among the most exciting in the UK. The sheer scope and quality of our food offer still surprises a lot of people, but again, this is something I’m very proud of.
The connection between food and travel can be powerful and can actually be a great deciding factor. Can we utilise this more?
“Absolutely. For many of the world’s billions of tourists, gastronomy has become a central point on the tourism experience, a catalyst for the growing trend of food motivated tourism. Following ‘Taste Liverpool’ I believe Liverpool City Region has the unique opportunity to position itself as a leading UK ‘foodie’ destination. It’s somewhat of a sleeping giant with huge social and economic potential that we are working on reawakening.
“We’re currently planning on continuing our investment in the development of ‘Taste Liverpool’ by celebrating the people and plates which make Liverpool one of the most exciting food destinations in the UK and we’re working closely with the French Government and the Grand Conseil du Vin de Bordeaux.
“Liverpool has been invited to be guest city at the Bordeaux Fete le Vin in 224. Providing us with an exciting opportunity to create a Liverpool ‘brand takeover’ to an audience of over 600,000 international visitors. Now feels like the right time for Liverpool to shine another global spotlight on our glorious hospitality sector, which also presents as a fantastic choice of career for the next generation.
And yet, there’s a national skills shortage in the hospitality sector. What are your thoughts on this?
“It’s a critically important issue, for the whole nation. UKHospitality estimates that shortages are suppressing economic activity in hospitality alone by £22bn – with the pandemic hangover and Brexit adding to an existing problem of finding skilled and even unskilled staff.
“Globally, the sector needs to work to re-attract skilled staff and up-skill new staff. I think part of the solution is for the UK to develop more centers of excellence for hospitality education and training, or even dedicated areas of study, with defined career paths, to support the industry. This skills shortage presents an opportunity and Liverpool, through our colleges and Universities could play an important role in remedying this, I believe.
“I think Liverpool’s greatest days are ahead of us but there are still many challenges ahead. Due to the pandemic, expenditure in the City Region’s visitor economy fell by around £3bn when compared to pre-pandemic levels and we need to work to ensure we soon reach those levels once again.
“On the positive side, Liverpool thrives when presented with a challenge. Against a challenging economic backdrop, new opportunities and ideas continue to come to the fore. There’s suddenly a pressing need to be innovative and creative in our ‘recovery thinking’, using rich and immersive content as a key driver.
Speaking of content. What’s your approach to this? What would you like to see more of?
“My approach is ultimately about results. We need to reach our intended audiences and we need to convince them. You have to communicate a compelling narrative, in a creative way and it has to resonate.
“Since 2003 when we won the title of European Capital of Culture, we have published powerful content to a global audience, underpinned by creativity, entrepreneurialism and innovation, showcasing Liverpool on a global stage.
You only have to look at how, during Eurovision, we integrated TikTok, one the world’s most influential platforms, at a local level, tapping into 80 global influences and content creators to support our independent businesses such as Bold Street Coffee and our visitor attractions. I want to help to create new opportunities at a grassroots level and play our part in helping to propel the fortunes of the sector forever forward.
“Strong, effective collaboration with the sector and our residents is as critical as collaboration with global brands and promotors in creating opportunities for growth and a model fit for the future.”
Now I know that this is only your first week in post but hat have you been working on. What are your top priorities?
“Since accepting the position, I’ve been informally meeting private sector visitor economy leaders and members of the team for catch-ups and working with closely with Chris Brown, who has been handing over the reins, and has been a great support.
“It’s important to reassure partners and colleagues and offer a sense of stability. It’s important that there is continued confidence, both within our teams internally and within the private sector. Chris has played such a key part in driving the destination forward, presenting very big boots to fill, but, to a large extent, certainly in terms of the services we offer and how we support and promote the sectors it will be business as usual.
“There’s also still also a considerable amount of work to do to build upon our Eurovision 2023 legacy. Now is a critical time in which we need to create and exploit every opportunity for what it’s worth, including around our inward investment ambitions.
“It’s an incredible privilege to be able help shape what Liverpool’s future looks like – to truly unlock the power of Liverpool and bring more beautifully bonkers ideas, creativity and strategic global brand partnerships to the city. My vision for Liverpool is to deliver an immersive, unforgettable city playground experience like no other, and the place the world wants to be.”
Finally, tell me about your leadership ethos?
“Something that I believe in and is strongly exemplified by the leadership of both Chris and Claire, and It’s something that I always take with me, is the ethos that: ‘Great leaders believe they work for their team. Average leaders believe their team works for them.’
“What I especially love about working within Liverpool City Council is that there’s no one single way of doing things. There’re many different types of leader here, with very different personalities, and different types of leadership style and that’s celebrated. This resonates with me because I’m also a great believer in charting your own path and doing things your own way. A business like ours, in a city like this should always be innovating. Onwards and upwards. It’s the Liverpool Way.”