Blackpool: the Las Vegas of Lancashire?

Blackpool is the original seaside destination and a model for other hotspots like Coney Island and Atlantic City (Jerde Partnership, 2003). Blackpool still remains the largest seaside resort in the UK but since the 1990s Blackpool has experienced a 30% drop in tourism (Jerde Partnership, 2003). Blackpool Borough Council commissioned EDAW together with experienced architects The Jerde Partnership to prepare a masterplan for central Blackpool. The need for the masterplan was clear, to transform the seaside resort from slow and steady decline to a future of achievable and sustained growth (EDAW, 2003).
This report looks at where Blackpool has come from, where it is now and where it hopes to be. It will evaluate the effectiveness of Blackpool’s strategy, examining the expectations and demands of the stakeholders. If will also examine the support of the proposed actions plans by the stakeholders and the local community.
History

Blackpool takes its name from ‘le pull’, a stream which drains Marton Mere and Marton Moss into the sea. The stream runs through peat lands which discolour the water hence the name Black Poole (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). In the late 1700s Blackpool was frequented by the landed gentry following a national craze for sea bathing and the drinking of seawater (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). The building of the Preston and Wyre railway in 1840 provided cheap excursion trains to Blackpool from industrial Lancashire, making Blackpool a destination for thousands of visitors from Lancashire and Yorkshire.
By the late 1800s Blackpool’s visitors were predominately the working classes from Lancashire and Yorkshire rather than the gentry. Blackpool was seen as ‘the Playground of the Industrial Revolution’: a town that grew rich on traditional Wakes Weeks (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). The development of the resort’s entertainment attractions began in the 1890s to provide facilities for the 35,000 resident population together with approximately 250,000 annual visitors (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). Illuminated trams were first seen in Blackpool in 1897 as part of the Jubilee celebrations but static illuminations did not appear until 1912 (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003).
BASELINE DATA
Blackpool has high levels of social and economic deprivation. Blackpool was ranked 32nd on the index of multiple deprivation out of 354 districts in England in 2000 (ODPM, 2003). Seven of Blackpool’s wards are in the 10% most deprived in England, this equates to 32% of Blackpool’s population (approximately 40,000 people). Tourism continues to be the major employer in the region, 88% of employment is in the service sector, linked to tourism and leisure. Blackpool has a lower gross domestic product (�7,383 per head) than Liverpool (�9,352 per head), which has European Objective 1 status. Blackpool’s small manufacturing sector, accounts for 10% of jobs, has suffered a decline in recent years.
Local specialisms are in vehicles, food and drink and plastics, with nationally known firms including TVR Sports Cars, Horizon Biscuits and Glasdon UK Ltd. Blackpool is also an important administrative centre, accommodating large national and regional office headquarters such as the National Savings (‘Ernie’) and the Department of Social Security (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). Despite this Blackpool has lacked major investment and is very run down with a large number of houses, hotels and guesthouses in multiple occupation (HMO), particularly for benefit claimants. It also has very poor sea water quality and polluted beaches.
Blackpool’s population has risen from 473 in 1801 to 3,707 in 1861, by 1901 it had reached 47,348 and 101,553 by 1931. The population of Blackpool has now steadied at around 150,000. With a population of 4,366 per km�, Blackpool is more densely populated than Liverpool or Manchester. Outside of London, only Portsmouth is more densely populated (Blackpool Challenge Partnership, 2002). Blackpool has a high proportion of economically inactive people with 27.8% of the population retired compared with 18.9% nationally and 5.3% unemployment compared to a UK average of 3.3% (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). There are also between 2,000 and 3,000 homeless people in Blackpool (Blackpool Challenge Partnership, 2002).
In 1989 a national survey found that 4,190,000 holidaymakers stayed in the resort and 12,590,000 people came on day or evening trips (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). Over the years there has been a significant shift in holiday patterns with more people using self-catering accommodation and many more people visiting the resort for day or evening trips or short breaks (Blackpool Borough Council, 2003). The bulk of visitors come from social groups C & D (manual skilled and non-skilled) with limited disposable income with the majority still coming from Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland.
THE WAY FORWARD: BLACKPOOL’S OPTIONS
* Do nothing (product continues to decline)
* Upgrade existing facilities (prolong product life cycle but remain in same market area)
* Radical change (move into new market area with new product)
BLACKPOOL’S VISION AND MASTERPLAN
Blackpool will be recognised as a vibrant, inclusive, healthy, safe and prosperous town where visitors and residents share the common goal of Blackpool being the number one visitor destination in the UK (BCP, 2003)
‘If Blackpool is to survive and prosper, it must find ways in which it can once again become internationally competitive as a destination resort.’ (Marc W. Etches, Managing Director, Leisure Parcs Ltd)
Stakeholder Expectations.
The key stakeholder groups for the renaissance of Blackpool are public bodies, private sector organisations and members of the public & community groups. The following identifies some of the principal members of the stakeholder groups:
Public Bodies
* Blackpool Borough Council
* The Blackpool Challenge Partnership (also the Borough L.S.P)
* North-West Development Agency/Lancashire West Partnership
* The European Union
* The Government (SRB) and Government Office for the North-West
* North-West Tourist Board & English Tourism Council
* Blackpool & Fylde College
* The Gaming Review Board
* Lancashire Constabulary
Private Sector
* Banking industry
* Blackpool Airport
* Blackpool Chamber of Trade
* Blackpool Pleasure Beach
* Blackpool Seasonal Traders Association
* Blackpool Town Centre Forum
* Casino Resort Operators
* Conference organisers
* Construction companies
* Consultants (to develop & deliver proposals)
* Entertainment industry
* Holiday operators & travel agents
* ICT industry
* Leisure Parcs (owners of Blackpool Tower, the Sea Life Centre, the Three Piers and the Wintergardens)
* Local & national press
* Service industry (hotels, catering)
* Transport industry
Community Groups/Members Of The Public
* Blackpool Coalition against Gaming Expansion
* Blackpool Diocese
* Existing visitors to Blackpool
* Future new visitors to Blackpool
* Population of Blackpool
These groups will comprise mainly those with an interest in developing the new Blackpool ‘product’ (supply side) and those which will constitute the demand for the Blackpool product. However, market competitors will also be less direct stakeholders in Blackpool – these could include competitor resort casino operators (Las Vegas, Australia’s Gold Coast, Sun City) and other ‘mini-break’ destinations (Center Parcs, Euro Disney, Amsterdam, Dublin etc.) and UK weekend-break destinations (Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, London etc.)
Since achieving the new Blackpool product will require huge and comprehensive changes to the physical and economic make-up of the borough, the process will require both a clear vision and a robust business plan, supported by the many stakeholders. Moreover, it will require a credible leader with the necessary skills, experience drive and determination to realise the vision. There are likely to be significant obstacles to achieving the new Blackpool, therefore a strong leader will essential in order to retain the support and enthusiasm of all the projects varied stakeholders.
In order to gain extensive stakeholder support for the new Blackpool, their (probably) disparate expectations must be recognised and subsequently acted upon. Once stakeholders have been identified, a process of consultation should take place to discover what they want Blackpool to be. This will inform the visioning exercise and if stakeholder views are acted on, assist in building consensus. With a large range of stakeholders, it would be appropriate to adopt a flexible and multi-faceted approach to consultation; different methods (exhibitions, ‘listening’ events, newspaper articles, focus groups, public meetings, questionnaires) would be geared to the natures of the various stakeholders.
In reality, this is what Blackpool has done. The lead organisation for the project, The Blackpool Masterplan, is the Blackpool Challenge Partnership (since 2002 also the Local Strategic Partnership LSP for the Borough). The key funding for driving the Masterplan forward through development and on to delivery is �20,000,000 of SRB6, secured in late 2000 and �X million in EDZ money from the European Union, secured in 2001. As part of the bid process, the partnership undertook a significant amount of consultation via the Let’s Talk Campaign. This included:
* A 2-page questionnaire prepared by the Blackpool Town Centre Forum and sent out to more than 500 shops, pubs, clubs, banks and building societies (results indicated that 91% of respondents supported the Masterplan);
* Focus groups and telephone canvassing of a random sample of 600 local people, undertaken by a specialist market research consultancy;
* Meetings with specific groups (e.g. churches, youth organisations).
Since securing the SRB6 funding, a comprehensive package of projects are being developed and delivered to bring broad social and economic benefits to Blackpool, as well as the development of the Vision Masterplan.
The Marketing Plan. (2 Vision Statements – which is confusing!)
The Vision statement is that ‘Blackpool will be a Vibrant, Inclusive Healthy, Safe and Prosperous Town.’ As with many municipal vision statements, this in my opinion, is both vague and all encompassing and therefore not particularly useful (no measurable targets, so how do you know how to get there?). However, it gives a positive message which few stakeholders are likely to disagree with. The vision aims to provide a better quality of life for people in Blackpool by revitalising the tourism industry.
The key strands for realising this vision are:
* Building ‘state of the art’ conference facilities;
* Radically improving the hotel offer (more quality 3 and 4 star hotels);
* Revamping existing attractions and revitalising the entertainment offer;
* Creating an internationally recognised centre for tourism and casino training;
* Tackling crime, especially burglary and car crime;
* Improving the health of people in Blackpool through a range of initiatives;
* Improving education outcomes and community learning opportunities.
Building on existing physical and social regeneration funded through SRB2, the new Blackpool would be achieved through a series of projects and thematic activities. However, at the centre of the regeneration programme is the aim to improve the quality of life for local people by increasing local economic growth through enhanced tourism activity. And the hub of this plan is the proposal to create a purpose built conference centre and resort casino in the centre of Blackpool.
Marketing Objectives.
The Masterplan sets out the marketing approach for Blackpool. Since this has been developed; through extensive consultation with stakeholders, it would seem fair to say it reflects the broad wishes of most stakeholders (even the Blackpool Diocese…). Obvious objectors would be the anti-gaming lobbyists. The Masterplan sets out how radical physical changes coupled with capital investment will transform the town, making it attractive to new market sectors (i.e. visitors who will spend more money.
So although Blackpool has undergone notable economic regeneration and diversification during the past decade, ??? ??? by SRB2 funding, the economy is still largely dependent on tourism (Source?) . However, with the current tourism offer in decline, the Blackpool ‘product’ will need to undergo change in order to prosper(Source?) . Given that the town has so much existing experience and infrastructure based around tourism, the obvious theme for economic regeneration would be to deliver an improved tourism offer that meets current market demand, therefore bringing more money into the town.
This is exactly what Blackpool is doing – instigating a comprehensive, economic regeneration programme, led by tourism. This is complemented by two further themes of physical improvements and to benefit the socially excluded sector of Blackpool’s population. The latter would be principally around housing, health, education, training and entry to employment.
Set out in the Blackpool Masterplan, the hub of the vision for the new Blackpool product is the development of 3 (?) resort casino hotels with associated purpose built conference facilities as well as broad appeal leisure facilities. These would include shops, restaurants, caf�s, bars, cinemas, theatres and a large leisure pool. Since poor weather is currently a visitor deterrent, these facilities would be covered to allow for all year round use. Moreover, covered links are proposed to key existing attractions, such as the Pleasure Beach funfair.
Access issues have already been partially addressed. In 1995 the new Blackpool Airport terminal building was opened and passenger number increased from 50,000 in 2002 to a projected 250,000 in 2003. This increase is principally due to the introduction of daily Ryanair flights to London Stansted and Dublin. Part of the forward programme of improvements are safer car parks and a modernised tram system.
Bit more on resort casinos…
Associated economic benefits in Blackpool…
Associated economic benefits to the region…
Critical analysis of the Blackpool Masterplan
STRENGTHS
WEAKNESSES
* Blackpool product radically transformed
* Broad stakeholder support
* Builds on existing strengths
* Comprehensive regeneration package(economic, physical and social elements)
* The product would be first of its kind in UK
* Proposals too radical?
* Timescale issues
* Funding issues
* No casino operator secured
* New gambling bill not enacted until 2006 at the earliest
* Planning issues
* Old Blackpool image might remain; will new market sectors want to come to Blackpool?
What happens if the gaming laws don’t change?
Blackpool Council leader Roy Fisher has stated that ‘ We believe the relaxation of the gaming laws will happen, which is why we’re trying to harness the positive potential of that development now. However, casinos are just one facet of the wide ranging draft masterplan that includes building a host of other new attractions and facilities. Rest assured, the council is absolutely committed to a major programme of regeneration for Blackpool. With or without casinos, we are determined that Blackpool will be transformed once again into a destination of truly national and international calibre.’ (Blackpool Today, 2003). In addition to this the Jerde Partnership (2003) acknowledge that the gaming reforms are an important ingredient in Blackpool’s strategy but they are not required for success
COMPETITORS
U.K.
* Seaside resorts (e.g. Southport, Lytham, Brighton, Scarborough)
* City-break destinations (e.g. Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, London)
* Mini-break destinations (e.g. Centre Parcs)
* Conference centres (e.g. Harrogate, Brighton, Bournemouth)
* Theme Parks (e.g. Alton Towers, Lightwater Valley, Legoland, Chessington)
* ‘Hen & Stag’ destinations (e.g. Nottingham, Chester, York, Newcastle)
Abroad.
* Casino resorts (e.g. Las Vegas, Sun City, Gold Coast)
* Theme Parks (Euro Disney, Disneyworld Orlando, Disneyland Los Angeles)
* Package holiday destinations (e.g. Spain, Greece, Tenerife, Florida)
* Conference destinations in other European cities
* ‘Hen & Stag’ destinations (e.g. Dublin, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona)
CONCLUSIONS
* Blackpool needs radical change since the present product , principally a tourism offer, is at the end of its lifecycle and in serious decline
* New product / new market
* Comprehensive marketing plan
* Balance of realism and informed risk taking

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