UK destinations see big boost from cultural city status
UK destinations see big boost from cultural city status
30 MAY 2018 7:49 AM

Every four years, a different U.K. city is chosen to show off its past and present culture, and such an accolade brings with it improved tourism, investment and hotel performance numbers.

REPORT FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM—Since 2013, the United Kingdom has elected a different City of Culture every four years.

The European Union has used the European Capital of Culture honor to recognize EU cities since 1985, when Athens, the cradle of democracy and arts, was chosen as the inaugural honoree. Since STR, the parent company of Hotel News Now, started its international operations in 2008, Liverpool has been the only U.K. city chosen; that also was in 2008.

As part of the U.K. cultural cities’ calendar, winning cities get to promote their culture, arts, history, tourism, hospitality, manufacturing and people for a year.

The first city chosen in 2013 as the U.K. City of Culture was Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Hull—officially called Kingston upon Hull—followed in 2017, while the next city, Coventry, gets its year in the sun in 2021.

Sarah Whitfield, GM at the 165-room DoubleTree by Hilton Hull, which opened last December, said without a doubt the accolade has had a positive effect on Hull, which is in East Yorkshire approximately 100 miles east of Manchester.

“Everything the organizers set up to do, they have done,” she said. “Hull being the cultural capital had four years of publicity leading up to (2017), and the city was full-year last year. There are lots of events planned for this year, too.” Whitfield said one notable new attraction is the Hull New Theatre’s Fly Tower.

“It can stage bigger productions such as ‘Jersey Boys,’ which (we) could not have had before. That brings in more people,” Whitfield said, who added a new concert venue would debut in the city in September.

According to data from STR, Hull saw full-year 2017 occupancy increase 1.9% to 78.9%, the highest absolute occupancy since STR started tracking U.K. hotel performance data. Average daily rate grew 9.9% year over year to £58.23 ($77.16) in 2017 and revenue per available room rose 12% to £45.94 ($60.87).

Derry/Londonderry benefited from being the U.K.’s cultural city in 2013, too.

For full-year 2013, STR data shows the Northern Irish city saw an 11.6% increase in occupancy to 67.9%, a 7.5% increase in ADR to £53.12 ($70.39) and a 19.9% increase in RevPAR to £36.06 ($47.78).

After a brief decline in 2014, when occupancy dropped 8.8% to 61.9% and RevPAR fell 7.4% to £33.38 ($44.23), Derry/Londonderry has seen steady hotel performance increases. For full-year 2017, Derry’s occupancy increased 1.4% to 69.1%, ADR increased 3.9% to £63.46 ($84.09) and RevPAR increased 5.3% to £43.83 ($58.08).

Aeidin McCarter, head of culture at Derry City & Strabane District Council—whose task is to further arts in the city—said 2013 transformed the city’s image, civic pride and confidence, all of which was heightened in light of the political and social troubles seen in the region in recent decades.

“There has been a significant development of a sense of belief in Derry’s ability to be an international tourist destination and a place to host large-scale events following the success of the All Ireland Fleadh, Turner Prize, BBC One Big Weekend and Clipper Round the World Race,” she said.

McCarter said the Northern Irish city has seen a substantial increase in visitor numbers since 2013.

“The area has experienced an overall 68% increase in overnight trips as compared to a Northern Irish increase of 16%,” she said. “There has been a significant focus on investment and an expected growth of 40% in hotel room capacity by 2020. The city also witnessed a growth in the attendance figures at its events and a new level of confidence by commercial partnerships to support our events.”

McCarter added infrastructural investment since 2013 has exceeded more than £160 million ($211.9 million).

That had given the city “the confidence to continue with a program of further investment … to spend over £3 billion ($4 billion) in capital projects over the next 15 years,” McCarter said.

Liverpool did well in 2008 during its celebratory year as the European Capital of Culture. Full-year 2018 hotel occupancy increased 1.5% to 77.2%, ADR rose 10.7% to £69.83 ($92.53) and RevPAR increased 12.4% to £53.90 ($71.42).

Full-year 2017 numbers show Liverpool hotels reported a 2.6% increase in occupancy to 78.7%, a 3.6% increase in ADR to £75.08 ($99.49) and a 6.2% increase in RevPAR to £59.08 ($78.29).

Coventry City of Culture 2021, the organizer of the city’s upcoming celebrations, did not return calls by press time. According to STR, Coventry hotels reported 2017 full-year occupancy increased 0.6% to 71.4%, ADR rose 2.3% to £65.48 ($86.68) and RevPAR increased 2.9% to £46.74 ($61.87).

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