Friday, 24 July 2009

Hope against Hope

Check your weekend supplements. There's another ad campaign for Liverpool doing the rounds as the city attempts to keep the momentum rolling after the European Capital of Culture.
The focus is the Hope Street cultural quarter. The district includes the Art Deco-styled Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, the award-winning Hope Street Hotel with its adjoining restaurant, The London Carriage Works, and the city's twin cathedrals. It's also home to the annual arts fest, the Hope Street Festival, held in September.
And to the Everyman Theatre, which was also this week the subject of a £12.8m investment from the Arts Council England to upgrade facilities to a 400-seater auditorium, workshops and writers' hub. The project is due for completion in 2013.
The angle of the campaign is cultural Liverpool, focusing on cultral attractions as a means to boost short-break visits to the city.
The campaign (above, left) forms part of £175,000 worth of national advertising to raise awareness of Liverpool as a cultural destination. It is part of a wider Destination Management Plan towards 2015 to grow hotel occupancy and boost the visitor economy to support 30,000 jobs.
The advert will run in national newspaper magazine supplements, including the London Evening Standard, and magazines, such as Conde Nast Traveller.
A poster campaign will also run at London Underground stations, including Euston, Victoria and Waterloo. A similar campaign will run at Edinburgh's Haymarket train station during The Edinburgh Festival.
The Mersey Partnership (TMP), the regional tourist body behind the ads, are keen to point out that a similar campaign in spring, based around the Unesco World Heritage waterfront, boosted hits to the official tourism website by 50% and led to an increase in accommodation bookings of 432%.
But, as a journalist, I can't help being cynical about the value of advertising.
Are they reaching the right market? And does the market targeted by these adverts acually care about Liverpool?
£175,000 strikes as a lot of money to spend on an ABC1 audience living mainly in the southeast with little knowledge, or interest, in Liverpool. Targeted press trips, viral online campaigns and generating local interest with the ABC1 demographic are surely far cheaper and more effective.
I mean, press and poster advertising? That's just so old media. Isn't it?
I'll be discussing this and other topics with Duncan Barkes on the City Talk breakfast show Tuesday at 7.45am. Post your comments below and I'll get them on air.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Will the last Welshman in Wrexham please turn off the lights

The summer weather may be faltering but Wales has reason to feel sunny this week. The latest round of figures from the Office of National Statistics shows that Wales is bucking the trend amongst the regions of the UK to report an increase in visitor numbers.
It received 1.1m foreign visitors in 2008, compared to 987,000 in 2007. Both England and Scotland reported a decline in figures. Visitors to Wales are being wooed by the charms of Cardiff, Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons amongst others.
But, I suspect, they are not thronging en masse to Wrexham. In fact, according to a local, internet-based campaign, major changes are needed to lure tourists back to the main town in Northeast Wales.
To find out why, I went to the North Wales border town to meet Wrexham resident and social-networking afficiando, Jane Redfern Jones.
A local community councillor and the editor of the website, Wrexham Today, Jane recently launched a group on Facebook to promote the idea that Wrexham needs to be more Welsh. The group, Wrexham Facebookers, now baosts over 1,100 members - all of them keen to espouse the joys of Wrexham as a hotbed of Welsh nationhood and culture.
"For me it's the Welsh identity that would draw in the tourists," says Jane, who grew up near Chirk in the Ceiriog Valley.
"By branding Wrexham as the borderlands, the council is failing to promote the Welsh heritage. In fact, the idea of promoting Wrexham as a border town simple makes it seem second best to Chester."
Wandering around town after coffee with Jane, Wrexham certainly looks like a place struggling to find its identity in the contemporary, more forward-looking Wales.
Aside from the bilingual street signs and some public art (above, right) reflecting the town's industrial heritage, there is little to say you're actually in Wales.
That is, of course, aside from Gareth Jones, who runs a Welsh gifts stall in Wrexham General Market.
Gareth does a roaring trade in car bumper stickers saying 'Proud to be Welsh' (£1), while figurines of the nationalist hero Owain Glyndwr (£2.99) are positivey flying off the shelves.
But, surrounded by a patriotic fervour of fluffy dragons, sloganeering stickers and figurines of anti-Establishment heroes, does Gareth feel like the only Welshman in Wrexham?
"I'm Wrexham born and bred but not a Welsh speaker. It's just how I am. But whenever I see a Welsh flag, I feel proud," he says.
So, should tourism officials in Wrexham do more to promote Welsh culture? And is a sense of local cultural heritage essential to attract tourists - or do the majority of punters simply come for anodyne shopping centres and bland high-street coffee chains?
Post your comments below and we'll discuss further on the Duncan Barkes breakfast show on City Talk this week.
Over to you ...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

My phone's on vibrate for Rufus

To Manchester for the Manchester International Festival (MIF) and the opening night of Prima Donna, the debut opera by Rufus Wainwright.
Rufus turned up to meet his public dressed like a Victorian undertaker and was to be seen pressing the flesh in the bar at the interval amid the Mancunian glitterati, orange-hued WAGs and bemused opera fans.
The show, needless to say, was a sell out and warmly received by the diverse crowd - if not all the critics. Rufus even turned up on stage to take three curtain calls.
The previous night local lads Elbow had taken to the stage at the city's Bridgewater Hall with the Halle Orchestra for what will be remembered by many as the highlight of the festival.
But it's not just about the evening events. Last Friday, the daytime programme included Gustav Metzger's public art installation, Flailing Trees, in the Manchester Peace Garden and a MIF-inspired walking tour of Manchester's architecture.
The programme runs until July 19th and has brought in visitors en masse to the city, boosting the local visitor economy.
So are culture breaks the new seaside holidays?
The Northwest was the first English region to develop a Major Events Strategy. Since 2004 major events have brought in over £145m to the region, according to figures from the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA).
The first Manchester International Festival in 2007 attracted an audience of over 200,000 and had an estimated economic impact of £28.8m, while the 2008 Liverpool Biennial brought 451,000 visitors to the city and generated a spend of £26.6m.
So clearly cultural festivals are providing a hugely valuable to boost tourism across the Northwest, but is it just about the numbers? What really makes a festival a success and do local people actually get involved?
Over to you ...