Re-think needed for future of Bath tourism

Bath may be a World Heritage city but it’s going to be turning its attention away from the global and more towards the home market  – once the pandemic is behind us – and will be doing all it can to make people stay in the area for longer too.

I’ve been talking – via Zoom – with the B&NES cabinet member who has responsibility for heritage, culture and tourism – Cllr Paul Crossley.

He told me that, in a post-viral world, there will be a lot of people who won’t want to get into a plane and that we will be facing competition from all the other UK tourist cities – like York and Oxford – to persuade both British and European holidaymakers to come here.

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Not only that but to get our hotels and B & B’s get back into profit, people will have to be encouraged to stay over too.

Bath’s unique attractions – both Roman and Georgian – have traditionally helped swell its annual coffers. Add the financial benefits of tourism to the income generated from property holdings and car parking, and B&NES pockets £35 million pounds a year.

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I asked Cllr Crossley how hard they’d been hit by the shutdown created by the current crisis.

Whether Bath’s reputation as a major destination for Hen and Stag parties will also be dented in future remains to be seen, but while hotels and B & B’s struggle to survive, many will say its time B&NES pressed the government for new powers to stop the spread of ‘party houses’ and give them powers to better control them.

Local author, historian and publisher Kirsten Elliott was quick to respond to this interview.

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Kirsten Elliott

She tells me her husband – writer and historian Andrew Swift – suggested: “We should be encouraging what he calls Slow Tourism. That is, encouraging people to stay here and have a holiday with Bath as a base.

It has been shown that people who stay a night or more put far more into the local economy, so encouraging long stays would mean we could abandon the ‘if it’s Tuesday it must be Salisbury and Bath’ type coach tours with their scamper around the Roman Baths, and market the walking opportunities as well as the cultural ones.
 
I was once given the figures that only 25% of visitors stay a night or more, but they contribute 75% of tourist income to the city. I don’t know if that’s still true.
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And here’s another idea. We often go to Railholiday, and stay at the old carriages at St Germans Station. They offer a discount to people who arrive by train.

Perhaps this could be considered, or some sort of tourist voucher to those who come by train.

At the moment we haven’t really thought this through properly, but it seems to me that, by promoting this form of tourism, Bath could be ahead of the game, and go back to being the trendsetter it was in the 18th century.

We’ve all seen how reducing tourism in Venice has had a startling effect on the ecology – could this be done here?”