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Visitors to Lancaster and Morecambe district rise by 37% as tourism recovery continues

The Midland Hotel pictured during Morecambe Music Festival in 2022

Tourism in the Lancaster and Morecambe district has 'almost fully recovered' from the Covid pandemic, says a report.

Data shows that visitor numbers were up by 37 per cent year-on-year in 2022 from 5m to 6.87m, and visits to the Lancaster and Morecambe area made up 11 per cent of all tourist trips to Lancashire that year.

The STEAM (Tourism Economic Activity Monitor) data also shows that there was an economic impact of £542m on the district in 2022, compared to £363m in 2021.

The tourism trade had been hit hard during the Covid pandemic and its aftermath in 2020 and 2021, due to the national lockdowns and temporary closure of businesses and attractions.

But Councillor Catherine Potter, Lancaster City Council cabinet member for the visitor economy, said the data was "very positive news" and Mark Prada, chair of Bay Tourism Association, said it was "encouraging".

"Whilst the number of overnight stay visitors has not increased quite as much as the number of day visitors, we are hoping that once the building work starts on the new Eden Project Morecambe, that we should see a significant upturn in the overnight stay visitor numbers," said Mr Prada (pictured below).

The STEAM figures show there were 64.8m tourism visits to Lancashire in 2022, up from 51.51m in 2021.

A total of £4.8bn was generated directly and indirectly within the local economy of Lancashire through visitor and tourism business expenditure.

But the STEAM report also shows that visitor numbers remain lower than pre-Covid levels in 2018, a year when the Lancaster and Morecambe District had 7.7m visitors.

"Visitor numbers (in Lancashire) have recovered steadily over the past three years, gaining by 25.9 per cent since 2021, with the recovery very evenly spread throughout all sectors," said the report.

"In 2022, 7.78m visitors stayed in some sort of accommodation within the area. The staying visitor sector as a whole, at -5.3 per cent, is just slightly below visitor numbers compared to 2018 and as a result it is still hovering below pre-Covid levels.

"But within the staying visitor category there are marked differences. The region’s large serviced accommodation sector is still -15.3 per cent below 2018 estimates and is therefore also below pre-Covid levels. Although smaller, the non-serviced accommodation sector continues to recover more rapidly, and in contrast to the serviced sector, is now 9.3 per cent above 2018 levels, evidencing a recovery past pre-Covid levels.

"The non-serviced sector was the first to open up post Covid, and as a result was perhaps initially perceived as the safe option for staying visitors. Serviced accommodation sectors have recovered to pre-Covid levels in other parts of the country, but like Lancashire, at a slightly slower pace."

Visitor numbers to the Lancaster and Morecambe district are expected to be further boosted when work begins on the Eden Project Morecambe, due later this year, ahead of a scheduled opening in 2026/7.

Councillor Potter, in her annual report to the council, said: "The primary visitor economy project of Lancaster City Council is clearly the development of Eden Project Morecambe.

"However, over the next three years, we need to ensure that Morecambe, Lancaster and the wider district are ready for the 740,000 expected visitors annually that Eden will generate.

"So, once the Eden development is under way, our attention needs to turn to everything else that we offer from a tourism and culture perspective and make sure that the whole district is Eden-ready."

She also addressed the decision to close Lancaster and Morecambe Visitor Information Centres due to budget cuts, in 2023.

"Following the decision to close the (Morecambe and Lancaster Visitor Information Centres), (government) funding was secured to deliver a digital transformation project.

"This initiative includes the development of a completely new tourism website, the contract for which was awarded to a local web developer and is well underway with a target launch in Q1 2024/25.

"Alongside the new website, six digital tourism touch screens have been installed, aiding the transition to accessible visitor information.

Councillor Potter is pictured below with one of the new touch screens, at the Platform

"A further five digital touch screens will be rolled out in the first quarter of 24/25, to include major transport hubs and high footfall areas.

"We have secured 20 new partnerships, including County libraries and local heritage centres to become tourist information points (TIPs) and have an additional 78 outlets across the district which display tourism brochures and leaflets.

"So, whilst some residents are disappointed that the two major visitor information centres are no longer open, the creation of several tourist information points will ensure that visitors can access many places throughout the district to find out more information about what to visit and what’s going on."

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