Never mind the sightseers, bring on the suits

Good fun - but good for the economy?

Good fun – but good for the economy?

The seafront is in urgent need of repair, parking fees are eye-watering and street drinking is an intractable problem but the visitors keep flocking to Brighton and Hove.

As The Argus reported last week, the city by the sea is the most popular coastal destination in the country. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics had 409,000 visits in 2013, an increase of more than 50,000 on the previous year.

Near-neighbour Bournemouth attracted 171,000 visitors in the same period, while Eastbourne attracted 94,000 people and Hastings 85,000.

Soozie Campbell, chairwoman of the Brighton and Hove Tourism Alliance, took the opportunity to claim that tourism is the city’s most important asset.

She said: “It is tourism that puts us on the map not new media or ecology.”

But if it is kiss-me-quick hats and bracing air that people are seeking, why is the city so far ahead of its seaside rivals?

The truth is more complicated than Ms Campbell would have us believe. The success of the city’s digital sector and the growth of green industries play a strong role in attracting  visitors as does its two universities and the many language schools.

The ONS recorded the different reasons people have for making a visit, grouped into four main categories:

• Holiday

• Business,

• Visiting friends or relatives,

• Miscellaneous.

Many of the overnights stays will be business folks working hard while  thousands of tourists come for the day and won’t be reflected in the ONS survey.

The tendency of the Tourism Alliance to see everything as a zero-sum game where  some businesses must lose out so that  their members can win is unhelpful.

Business, tourism, education, housing – it is all inextricably linked.

It  good news for all, for example, that The Brighton Digital Festival will receive £173,000 of funding over the next two years.The money, in addition to sponsorship from Brighton digital businesses including Brandwatch and Pure360, will help deliver more digital art events and stronger content this year. Last year’s festival featured over 170 events, an increase of 67 percent on  2012, and was attended by more than 40,000 people.

The Digital Festival, along with The Great Escape, the Eco Tech Show and a myriad wedding and jobs fairs and other trade shows, blur the boundaries between business and pleasure.

While other resorts remain rooted in the past, reliant on short term low-paid seasonal employment, Brighton and Hove has diversified to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Not least among these is the need to find suitable jobs for the city’s under-employed highly qualified young people.

Relying on tourism alone is not the answer.


This article was first published in The Argus on May 15, 2014