Sunday, 27 September 2009

And the winner is ...

Bleary eyed this morning on the early train home from Blackpool. Last night was the England's Northwest Tourism Awards with the best of the region gathered together in regeneration-central Blackpool for a night of red wine, back slapping and tourism gongs.
I didn't even have to sneak myself in the back door of the Tower Ballroom (located in the Tower, above) as I was nominated in the travel writer category for a piece in The Observer about Chester's food trail.
And I was staying at Number One St. Lukes, one of the new breed of guesthouse trying to drag Blackpool into an new era. The owner poured coffee into me at 6.45am this morning and made me a bacon sandwich for the train. He may just have saved my life.
So, anyway, scores on the doors: Cumbria four awards; Lancashire four; Chester two; Manchester three and Merseyside four. That's a pretty even distribution across the region on the night. Cue cries of political machinations and Eurovision-style block voting.
Seriously, though, a good night for the Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) Liverpool, picking up the Sustainable Tourism and Excellence in Business Tourism awards in recognition of its role in boosting Liverpool as a business tourism destination.
Good news too for Farmaggedon near Ormskirk, which came from nowhere to pick up the Tourism Experience of the Year. Many farmers re-invent themselves with farm shops and animal petting. This lot took a different angle: zombies.
And me? Well, looks like I'm to be always the bridesmaid. But at least I turned up.
The awards are staged by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and you can read the full list of winners is here.
Meanwhile, I need some sleep.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Cruising for a bruising

I've never been taken by the idea of cruising. All those rich Americans, confined spaces and forced-bonhomie deck games before dinner with the crashing bores at the captain's table. Ugh.
But National Cruise Week kicks off this weekend to attempt to convince us that cruising is the one sector of the travel industry to have put on numbers during the recession. It's a week of events and promotion by umbrella organisation, the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) to raise awareness and highlight new cruise options away from the traditional grab-a-granny image.
Good timing then by the Independent newspaper, which reported this weekend on an escalating scrap between erstwhile shipping hub Liverpool and latter-day cruisers' fave Southampton.
The Hampshire port is reported to be trying to block Liverpool's plans to upgrade the historic Pier Head, designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004, into a port of embarkation and arrivals.
The owner of Southampton docks, Associated British Ports, has asked the Department for Transport to throw out Liverpool's plans for a turnaround terminal.
It is said to be furious that Liverpool received £20m in public money to redevelop the City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal at Princes Dock.
But cruising is booming and surely Liverpool, with its rich maritime heritage and Capital-of-Culture regeneration boost, is an ideal location to develop a new cruise hub?
Besides, the terminal will welcome the Queen Mary 2, Cunard's flagship cruise liner with 3000+ passengers in October. In March this year the £22m Liverpool Canal Link opened up access to the historic waterfront, generating an expected 200,000 extra visitors and additional tourism spend of £1.9m.
Has Liverpool played dirty? And does the city even want cruise lines chugging up the Mersey? I'll be discussing this topic with Duncan Barkes on City Talk Breakfast this Tuesday at 7.45am.
Post your comments below and I'll put them on the air.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Above us only sky - or a cynical, money-grabbing owner?

A bad press this week for Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) thanks to this post by fellow travel blogger, Grumpy Traveller.
The main thrust is a bad experience recently, involving the way passengers are encouraged to pay extra to join the Fast Lane queue and speed up their progress through security to the departure gate.
Making for particularly uncomfortable reading for LJLA is the line: "Surely Liverpool Airport’s management knows that they’ve got a massive understaffing and queuing problem. Therefore, the only possible conclusion is that this is an act of greedy bastardry on an epic scale."
The post was just gathering readers across the travel blogs when local newspaper the Daily Post reported that LJLA was planning an ambitious £12m expansion to improve security facilities and almost double retail space.
Peel Holdings, which owns LJLA, plus Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster and Durham Tees Valley Airport in Darlington, said the scheme reflected plans by budget carrier easyJet to move extra flight capacity to Liverpool from Luton and East Midlands airports.
The airport outlines the Fast Lane scheme, which carries a charge of £3 per person (including children), with a FAQ on its website, citing the following:
"Buying a Fast Lane ticket does not guarantee that you won't have to wait in a queue, however, your queuing time will still be shorter when compared to the standard passenger queue and Liverpool John Lennon Airport will always attempt to ensure that your wait time is kept as short as possible."
Grumpy isn't happy and nor are some of the readers who posted their comments on his blog and below the Daily Post story. But what do you think? Is this a total rip off? Or a logical way to jump the queues - assuming, of course, it even works.
I'll be discussing this with Duncan Bakes on City Talk Breakfast this Tuesday from 7.45am and we're hoping to get some response from LJLA about the concerns raised.
Meanwhile, post your comments below and I'll put them on air.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Claiming back our coastline

Fancy a stroll around the coastline of Britain this autumn? That's a mere 2,784 miles if you do. But, if you set out from the Northwest, then you might not get very far.

In a report published by Natural England, an advisory body to the government on the natural environment over the summer, the Northwest faired particularly badly.

Only 44% of the Northwest coastline is accessible - that's 184 miles. But 237 miles of British coastline is not accessible. This reflects industrial use on Merseyside and along the west coast of Cumbria.

No one in England lives more than 70 miles from the sea but, in the Northwest, you're unlikely to walk for more than a few miles before finding the path blocked off.

The coastal access map was drawn up for the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which is expected to become law when it passes through Parliament in November.

The Natural England audit forms part of an effort to make England's coastline accessible to walkers. Separate projects operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The idea of forming a complete ring around the coast dates back to the 18th century but has been revived in recent years by the ramblers seeking the right to roam.

The 53 councils involved in the mapping project have backed the idea of increased access, doubtless tempted by extra tourism revenues.

But landowners in some parts of the country have criticised the bill, while military installations and industry oppose the right to roam.

Even The Queen is involved. The Times reports that HRH is likely to be one the first landowners to open up private land on her North Norfolk Sandringham estate for ramblers.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “The news that the public lack full access to nearly 1000 miles of coastline is a sobering reminder of how much is at stake in the Marine & Coastal Access Bill."

Do we want to reclaim our coastline in the Northwest? I'll be discussing this topic with Duncan Barkes on City Talk Breakfast this Tuesday from 7.45am. Post your comments below and I'll put them on air.