OLDHAM’S position in Greater Manchester is well rehearsed as we continue to invest time and resource into the growth of the City Region.
In the week that GM celebrated its 40th anniversary we recognise more than ever that our strength in numbers means we can achieve greater investment together than anyone – including the likes of Manchester City – can achieve alone.
One of the region’s boom areas is tourism and the visitor economy, and this is where I believe we have something unique to offer here as the ‘Gateway to the Pennines’.
You might be surprised to learn that Oldham’s visitor economy already generates more than £242 million annually – the majority of which comes from visitor shopping and food and drink.
More than 4.15 million visitors came to Oldham in 2012 and that’s interesting given that the measure of a ‘visit’ is a day trip of longer than three hours where the distance travelled was more than 20 miles: an overnight stay for leisure or business or staying in a second home.
We have a good offer here now. Gallery Oldham hosts an excellent range of travelling exhibitions and events and Oldham Library also boasts some of the highest visitor numbers across the region.
Our much coveted ‘jewel’ Oldham Coliseum and other theatre companies also attract a wide audience with more ambitious productions, such as Chicago, really bringing in the crowds.
But there is still much more room for us to grow and expand our reach.
We know that an average day-trip visitor to Greater Manchester will spend around £53 per person and an overnight visitor will spend around £113. Our challenge is encourage more of our day visitors to extend their visits into an overnight stay.
We are well placed to achieve this in Oldham with currently more than 1,200 beds across 26 establishments and an average room rate of £64.64 per night – the third highest in Greater Manchester. This is both a reflection of demand and also, perhaps, a lack of competition.
We also know that there is a geographical split in both the standard of accommodation and room rates with a current deficit in Oldham town centre.
This has become more apparent with the new opportunities created by the opening of Metrolink which means Manchester city centre is now just 20 minutes away with its connections onto major cultural and sporting hubs, like Salford Quays and Manchester United, as well as the impending extension to Manchester Airport.
With a range from budget hotels and independent guesthouses to higher end boutique hotels – and of course the forthcoming Hotel Future project offering luxury accommodation and conferencing facilities – there is a real opportunity to grow our accommodation sector by encouraging more national hotels and, perhaps, offering incentives for owners of large homes to consider conversion to guesthouses and B&Bs.
Oldham, situated between Manchester and West Yorkshire, is increasingly accessible and has the fantastic benefit of 20 per cent of the borough being in the Peak District National Park.
We are fantastically placed to take advantage of the current boom in boom in short stays in the UK, but we can and must do better.
If we can grow that sector by say 10 per cent we have the opportunity to create more than 300 new jobs as well as bringing additional income into the borough.
To achieve this we cannot sit in isolation or simply rely on being part of the Peak District. We must capitalise on our position in the fastest growing economy outside of London – Greater Manchester– and we must get our offer right.
There’s a great deal of work needed to make the visitor’s first impression – of our town centre – the best it can be. This is very much work in progress – but it IS progress.
We must invest in high-quality design and construction and plan our town centre to appeal to visitors: music, water, seating places, great food, atmosphere and safety.
We have talked about our forthcoming hotel, cinema, restaurants, new theatre, investment in markets and events, together with a massive £1m boost to support independent traders which is already seeing new businesses set up, but we can’t lose sight of the need to get the basics right too.
The standard and cleanliness of our parks, countryside and roads are just as vital to creating the right visitor experience as our attractions and events. Even our offer of up to three hours of free town centre weekend parking (or free all day at Hobson Street) will help to boost visitor numbers; and it’s a rare surprise in modern Britain!
Outside of the town centre other projects like the new North Stand at Oldham Athletic will boost visitor numbers, as will investing to improve key routes into the borough and district centres.
Let’s get together and think about how we can grow the visitor economy, both to generate more economic benefit but also to create a place we are proud to invite visitors to. We shouldn’t be planning for mediocre – and we mustn’t underestimate our potential.
I’d welcome your thoughts on how we can encourage more business to capitalise on the growing tourism market and what could make the visitor experience better.
Thanks for listening,