Global spotlight shines on ‘must visit’ city of Lancaster

The Visit Lancashire poster
The Visit Lancashire poster

Lancaster is now one of eleven English Heritage Cities alongside Bath and York. NICK LAKIN reports on how our tourism future could hold the keys to success and prosperity across the district...

New York, London, Paris, Munich...everyone’s hearing about Lancaster’s future as a key short break destination in England.

Advertisements for Lancaster Castle have appeared in the London Underground and Heathrow Airport, and the city is now being promoted in France as one of 11 “must-visit” English Heritage Cities.

Journalists from Florida and San Diego have recently visited to discover more about the city for articles in their US publications.

This week, Lancaster VIC represented Lancashire in the Northern Tourism Growth Fund North of England Take Over of London City Information Centre, to highlight the opportunities for visitors that are within easy reach of the capital.

In short, there’s a big drive to put Lancaster on the map and help it realise its full tourism potential.

Although the city is described as “punching under its weight”, it receives over seven million visitors per year, contributing more than £415m to the local economy and supporting 5,878 full time jobs.

The new Lancashire Visitor Economy Strategy 2015-2020, developed by Marketing Lancashire following considerable consultation with stakeholders, identifies Lancaster as one of the best opportunities for visitor economy growth in the county.

The city’s heritage assets, cultural offering and geographical location provide the essential ingredients for Lancaster to become a key short break destination in England.

There is common agreement however that the city’s full tourism potential has yet to be realised.

To successfully attract more visitors and increase visitor spend, Marketing Lancashire, the county’s “Destination Management Organisation”, is working in partnership with Lancaster City Council to lead on the production of a Destination Development Plan for the city.

This will be an action oriented plan that is owned and delivered by a range of stakeholders within Lancaster.

The plan will identify the city’s priorities from a visitor-centric approach to developing its facilities, services and products.

A leadership group, including representatives from the visitor economy, retail, culture, heritage, education, transport, community and the local authority will steer the process.

An initial meeting has been held and a business survey will be delivered over the next few weeks, followed by a wider stakeholder consultation event.

Ruth Connor, Chief Executive of Marketing Lancashire, and English Heritage Cities board member said: “Lancaster is without doubt punching under its weight as a visitor destination which is why Marketing Lancashire, Lancaster City Council and a wide range of private sector partners are working together to raise the city’s profile.

“Joining the English Heritage Cities consortium puts Lancaster on the same visitor map as Bath or York and to match these in terms of visitor numbers and awareness, businesses across Lancaster will need to become more visitor focused and more aware of the visitor experience expected of a leading tourism destination.

“Marketing Lancashire is currently promoting Lancaster to national and worldwide audiences by exploiting marketing opportunities in the UK and in key overseas markets; as well as introducing new journalists and media to the city with the aim of boosting the profile of this attractive historic and cultural city.”

Lancaster is already reaching out to new markets nationally and internationally thanks to a number of marketing initiatives being worked on by Marketing Lancashire, in association with Visit England and Visit Britain. Lancaster Castle is amongst a handful of northern attractions currently featured in marketing activity on the London Underground, with audiences across the South East reading and hearing more about Lancaster thanks to a £1m multi-channel campaign to support destinations hit by the recent flooding.

This new and unexpected boost to marketing activity is driving visitors to and page views of Lancaster and its district web pages have increased by 93 per cent over the last three months (compared with same period 2014/15).

Annual page views for the Lancaster area have just exceeded 1.2m, demonstrating the public’s growing interest in this small city with a big story.

In 2015, with the help of Marketing Lancashire, Lancaster joined the Heritage Cities Consortium, a partnership of 11 cities including Bath, Oxford and York, which are all now benefiting from the £2m GREAT UK Challenge Fund (UKCF), part of the Government’s GREAT Britain Campaign.

Lancaster, along with its 10 partners, is now being promoted to potential visitors in France thanks to new French language website; part of the latest English Heritage Cities campaign currently using a range of digital channels including the reach of to drive short breaks into the English regions.

As well as the new website the campaign will include YouTube clips, online banner advertising and a VIP competition offering a two night break, free entry to attractions and guided tours in the winner’s destination of choice.

Marketing Lancashire has also been working with other northern destination management organisations to attract international visitors to the north, through the £10m Northern Tourism Growth Fund (NTGF).

This has seen Lancaster promoted in New York, Miami, Munich and Australia, as well as to Visit Britain PR representatives in 17 world destinations, through Visit Britain’s recent Vibe event.

Visits to Lancashire by travel buyers, agents and journalists have already taken place with more planned over the coming weeks, with Lancaster featuring on a wide range of itineraries.

The North of England Take Over will attract media attention as well as offer visitors the chance to hear about attractions and events taking place across the North. The day will also help the London City information staff increase their product knowledge of visitor attractions beyond London.

Virgin trains direct train from London to Lancaster, which takes around two and a half hours, makes Lancaster a genuine second-centre break for international visitors keen to explore the culture and heritage of Northern England.

Ruth Connor added: “These activities and the combined efforts of partners and colleagues across Lancaster will help transform the city into a must-visit short break destination; securing more jobs and sustained economic growth for Lancaster and district.”