SWINDON is lacking a magnet attraction and a broad range of accommodation for holidaymakers, who continue to avoid the town when they are looking for a ‘staycation’.
The Great Britain Tourism Surveyuses three-year averages to determine an annual figure for total trips, holiday trips, total nights, holiday nights, total spend and holiday spend by British residents between 2006 and 2013.
The figures revealed for Swindon show an average of 357,000 total trips were being made in 2006 with 289,000 trips in 2013, with six per cent fewer of those trips being made for holidays.
The declining interest in holidays around Swindon is underlined by the fact there were 184,000 holiday nights in 2006 and an average of just 154,000 in 2013, with as few as 84,000 in 2012.
Despite the decreasing number of stays, holiday spend has not diminished. As it was in 2006, £11m is spent in the town each year in connection with holidays, though this figure too has grown elsewhere in the country.
David Andrews, chief executive at Visit Wiltshire, said: “Throughout the noughties the whole of Wiltshire lost lots of market share.
“There was complacency, a lack of investment. Tourism providers weren’t investing in their product in Swindon and Wiltshire.
“There was a fragmented approach across the county. Everyone was advertising themselves separately.
“Tourism has been growing at a rapid rate and is set to grow for a number of years. A lot of our competitors put a lot of money into tourism.”
Mr Andrews said the landscape had changed for Swindon since 2011, with the rise of his organisation as a unifying factor in pushing all marketing in the same direction.
Swindon has plenty of budget and three-star hotels, according to the tourism chief, and the town should be looking to target business tourism in the future – exploiting the town’s location.
Mr Andrews said there was little concern surrounding the closure of the Menzies and Madison hotels in the past nine months.
He said the Madison had failed to invest in its rooms and as such, suffered with online reviewers, whereas the Menzies simply shut because of a national restructuring.
Marketing is improving. Visit Wiltshire currently has an ad campaign running at London’s mainline train stations with plugs for tourists bringing their bicycles on the train to Swindon for a cycling break.
On the problems facing Swindon in the tourism sector, Mr Andrews said: “Brand and identity are something Swindon Council will be talking about with us over the coming weeks.
“One challenge is getting a broader range of accommodation in place to suit a broader range of tourists.
“Greater investment is needed in marketing, promotion and extending the working being done in order to encourage Swindon as a tourist destination.”
Mr Andrews said Swindon, despite its reputation in some quarters, could become a true tourist destination if it had the right product.
“No destination can be everything to everybody and it’s about being smart with who you are targeting,” he said.
“Swindon’s location is a great asset. There are a number of groups looking for good value accommodation in the right location and on that level, Swindon can compete with anywhere.
“Anybody that says Swindon doesn’t have potential is wrong. Tourism is growing at five per cent-a-year.
“We need to make that effort, otherwise we are missing out on the growing market.”
Coun Garry Perkins (Con, Haydon Wick), cabinet member for economy, regeneration and culture, put much of the decline down to the recession, but offered answers on why other local authorities had performed better during the same economic downturn.
“There hasn’t been a good spend on that side of things for the last five or six years on that side,” he said.
“People don’t have the money to spend on frivolities, when food and rent is costing so much.
“Swindon Council has spent quite a bit of time looking at attractions like Steam, Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, Coate Water and Lydiard Park.
“We are aware we need to make more of those attractions.
“We also have the project currently going on at the museum, where money has been pumped in to rediscover some of the town’s older art pieces. That’s the type of change which might attract more people.
“It’s an industrialised town with a lot of heritage. We are beginning to pull that to the front so that people can understand it’s not just a town on the way to London or the West Country.
“There’s an awful lot happening in Swindon. We just need to find some money to hang some banners up to show that off.
“The fact Swindon has not been seen to be a tourist attraction should not be a barrier to future success.
“We just need to get people into Swindon so they can see it within that area.”
Coun Perkins drew attention to the project currently ongoing at the Oasis Leisure Centre and the impending arrival of the Europe’s largest indoor ski slope as the type of magnet which could pull a regular stream of people into the town.
“We can’t pinch Stonehenge and bring people in here with that,” he said. “Unfortunately we lack one of those draws in Swindon. We have to create our own magnet.
“Once we bring them in we have to keep them here.”
Swindon & Cricklade Railway, based near Blunsdon, accounts for 16,000 visitors each year to the local area.
It’s publicity manager Adrian Brodie said ignorance can be a significant factor, with people living on the doorstep of the heritage railway not even knowing it’s there, let alone visitors from beyond the county.
“Swindon & Cricklade Railway is often referred to as Swindon’s best-kept secret. We have locals around here saying they we didn’t know we existed despite living nearby for more than 20 years,” he said.
“It makes me ask what planet they are on. We have a web presence, we appear in the local press and advertise all the time.
“Maybe the issue is Swindon itself. If somebody asks why they should come to Swindon, well, what’s in Swindon?
“It’s best known as the home of the Great Western Railway and the works are still up to date, but what else does it have to offer?
“Swindon’s not a town we shop in at all. I don’t enjoy Swindon at all. The town probably does need a big makeover, it’s a bit dated now.”