West Midlands Regional Board for Tourism
We are 11 months into 2020 and it is certainly not the year many of us expected. COVID-19 has turned everything on its head. ‘Survival’ has quickly become the key word for many industries – tourism being no exception. Tourism boosts our economy, employs thousands of people, enriches our businesses and pays for important public services. Tourism works for each of us, every day! It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there’s always a group of people who want to visit your homeland. The West Midlands is no different. Each year millions flock in to see the beauty the region has to offer. Birmingham’s visitor numbers have gone up 26% since 2013 (from 33.99m to 42.8m) [latest figures 2018]. We have also experienced a 53% increase in international visitors since 2012 from 725,000 (2012) to 1.1 million (2019). In the West Midlands, tourism is worth around £13 billion, which highlights just how important and valuable the sector is to us.
For those of you that don’t know me, I am very passionate about our visitor economy and all the wonderful things tourism brings to our region – so it will come as no surprise that I proudly occupy a seat on the West Midlands Regional Board for Tourism. As a born and bred Brummie, I want to spend a few moments highlighting some of those wonderful things that make Birmingham so attractive.
For over 250 years Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter has been a national epicentre for jewellery design – producing an estimated 40% of the UK’s jewellery. The Quarter is home to more than 100 retailers, diamond dealers and workshops. I actually chose my wife’s engagement ring from a small, independent family ran jeweller in the quarter.
Birmingham is home to miles of canal ring routes surrounded by tranquil countryside, making it perfect for a relaxing English getaway. The city boasts a staggering 35 miles of canals – not only are they enjoyed by cyclists, walkers and narrowboat users, but they also act as a reminder of our unique industrial history. I love walking along the canals in the summer months with friends, stopping for lunch at one of the many café’s.
Birmingham is a culinary capital. As well as the famous Balti Triangle and Cadbury chocolate, the city has Michelin starred restaurants including Simpsons, Purnell’s, Adam’s, Opheem (the first Indian restaurant to be awarded a star outside London) and Carters of Moseley. Together with Peel’s in Hampton-In-Arden, Greater Birmingham has six Michelin starred restaurants in total, which is more than any UK city outside of London.
Birmingham is the only regional city to have its own Royal Ballet, Symphony Orchestra and Opera Company that attracts visitors from across the globe. In 2020, Birmingham Royal Ballet marks 30 years in the city and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra celebrates its centenary. Not only that, we are the home to the epic gangster drama Peaky Blinders that is set in the streets of post-war Birmingham. The worldwide smash-hit has spawned popular walking tours for fans from across the pond. I really can’t speak about arts & culture without mentioning the smaller grassroots organisations that for me, really makes Birmingham what it is. Aston Performing Arts Academy, is one of those organisations that empowers our young people through performing arts and use our city as a stage to showcase the talented young people.
Birmingham’s Custard Factory is also a city treasure. Once where Alfred Bird’s famous instant egg-free custard powder was mass produced, it has been given a new lease of life as a collection of independent retailers and creatives occupy the area. As an entrepreneur, my first office space I ever acquired was in the Custard Factory.
The visitor economy was the sector hit first and hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. The curtain of coronavirus has fallen at a time when many of our tourism businesses approached the year with optimism, with some posting record-breaking early figures. Nationally, in a “normal” year, the tourism industry is worth £91.6bn to the UK economy. With a forecast for 2020 of £46.8bn, down 49%, it is crucial that we work together to drive domestic breaks this autumn and winter.
It has been incredibly difficult for our tourism businesses to operate and, with the battle against the coronavirus far from over, it is imperative that our industry continues to receive financial support from government to ensure our tourism organisations and staff can thrive in such challenging times. It’s important our government recognises that support doesn’t just stop at the easing of lockdown or being able to reopen businesses, it needs to provide ongoing financial assistance. Initiatives such as the ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme has massively supported our culinary sector.
In two years’ time, Birmingham will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Having already been home to the World Indoor Athletics Championships, Ryder Cup, Rugby World Cup & ICC Champions Trophy we must see this as a major opportunity to keep our sector alive. It is for this reason why I am confident that, together, our region will come back stronger and better. Birmingham is truly a resilient city and now more than ever we must dig deep and use this fighting spirit to overcome one of our city’s biggest challenges to date. Not only should we survive, together we will thrive!
Board Member, West Midlands Regional Board for Tourism