What a difference a year makes – 12 months ago Blackpool was on the brink of entering tier 3 Covid restrictions with its hospitality industry shut down on the eve of the busy half-term holiday.
But the resort has bounced back this summer as visitors have returned to the resort in numbers reminiscent of its glory days.
Council figures show footfall on the seafront and Promenade was more than 60 per cent ahead of pre-pandemic levels in July and August this year.
Mobile phone data shows nearly 11 million people visited the Prom during those months, compared to 6.6 million in 2019.
Busy Blackpool beach
Although there are no official figures again this year for visitor numbers, hoteliers group StayBlackpool is also reporting strong performance among its members.
Blackpool Council’s head of tourism Philip Welsh told a meeting of the tourism, economy and communities scrutiny committee: “Feedback is that it has been a really strong recovery through the summer months.
“Some of the numbers on the Promenade are more reminiscent of 20 years ago and there are strong signs that is continuing into September, despite a blip due to the fuel crisis.”
Footfall has also increased in the town centre during July and August – up 26 per cent from 5.5 million in 2019 (pre-pandemic) to nearly 7 million this summer.
The Promenade has attracted millions of visitors
It is up 48 per cent compared to last year’s figure of 4.6 million.
A report to the committee said: “Whilst we have no formal research on visitor numbers due to our traditional household research being suspended during pandemic restrictions, key indicators such as car parking, inbound rail, and mobile phone monitoring data indicate that Blackpool’s tourism industry
has enjoyed a remarkably strong recovery to date.
“Businesses across most tourism and hospitality sectors in the resort are reporting exceptional results compared to 2019 (the last full year of tourism activity pre-pandemic) and strong bookings over the remainder of this year.
“The reinstatement of large-scale events such as World Fireworks has attracted very large numbers of people to the Promenade, generating footfall on a scale that we have not seen for many years.”
The Illuminations have been extended until January 3 in order to extend Blackpool’s tourism season even further, while investment has been made in a stronger Christmas offer than usual.
This includes an indoor festive market at the Winter Gardens and a Christmas By The Sea village on the Tower Festival Headland, with a synthetic skating rink, magic forest, snowfalls, and themed light projection shows.
The entertainment offer has also been ramped up with the Friends Festive exhibition celebrating the TV show at the Winter Gardens from November 5 to 19, along with traditional shows and pantomimes.
Mr Welsh said: “We hope to have really good things happening in the last three months of the year and build foundations for next year.
“Next year we will have the challenge of the return of European travel. We don’t want to see this year as a one-season wonder, we want to build on this year.”
Mr Welsh added feedback from representatives of the holiday accommodation sector on the town’s Covid Recovery Group had been positive.
He said: “A lot of those businesses have taken the leap of faith with us and are staying open until the end of the year, and forward bookings for next year appear to be very good.
“When people have been coming here, they have been going out and spending money in shops, bars and restaurants.”
Mr Welsh said it was hoped next year would see another strong tourism performance as many of the events and conferences cancelled this year will be back in place.
This includes Blackpool’s annual Air Show which will return next year over the weekend of August 13 and 14 after being cancelled for the past two years due to Covid, and which attracts up to 100, 000 visitors.
The World Fireworks Championships has been moved from Friday night to Saturday night this year to encourage people to arrive in town earlier and boost trade for businesses across the resort.
Other indicators which reflect Blackpool’s recovery include use of car parks which for June and July was up by more than 14,000 compared to 2019, although there was a small dip in August due to events such as the air show being cancelled.
Inbound rail travel was down slightly, by 3.4 per cent between April and August compared to 2019, but saw a jump of 40 per cent in June.
Ian White, a director of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said members had reported “extremely positive” performance since lockdown ended.
He said: “Feedback from StayBlackpool members is extremely impressive and we are aware that some members are having to slow down a touch to avoid breaking through the VAT threshold.
“Early concerns about last minute cancellations where people had double booked a foreign holiday and a Blackpool holiday never happened as the traffic light system worked to support the staycation.
“StayBlackpool is looking forward to 2022 as the town welcomes back a full schedule of events.
“Not forgetting our big reveal of an online booking platform allowing the real time search and booking facilities to match the big online travel agents, though our offer will give members commission free or ultra low charge bookings.
“2022 will also be extremely positive as the town sees more work starting and progressing on the many projects around the town.
“There will be concerns that as foreign travel opens up again in 2022, demand may suffer.
“However we have confidence that StayBlackpool is doing all the right things at the right time for our members and the visitors staying with these trusted accommodation providers.”