Tourism is a major contributor to Cheshire's economy - and it's still growing

PUBLISHED: 18:32 21 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:46 20 February 2013

Tourism is a major contributor to Cheshire's economy - and it's still growing

Tourism is a major contributor to Cheshire's economy - and it's still growing

Cheshire has scores of popular tourist attractions and the industry plays a major part in the county's economy

Cheshires tourism industry is a major part of the countys economy, and a growing one the value of tourist business rose by an impressive five per cent from 2009 to 2010.

If you look at tourism it represents about 2 billion out of a 21-22 billion economy so around 10 per cent, so it is significant already, says Barrie Kelly, Marketing Director of Marketing Cheshire. But there is undoubtedly more to go at given the wealth of natural space the county enjoys, and the many fine attractions.

Probably the best-known tourist draw in the county is the city of Chester itself, famed for its Roman heritage, splendid city walls, and fantastic shopping even one of the great tourist sites, the Rows, is of course a shopping area.

The citys zoo is another attraction that those beyond the region will be aware of, and for good reason: it is the second most visited
attraction in Britain (after The Tower of London), with 1.4 million visitors in 2011 able to see its more than 7000 species.

Chester Zoo has a really rich heritage. We are just over 75 years old now; George Mottershead the founder and his family looked at creating a zoo without bars, so thats the vision behind what we do - people can come along and feel at one with nature, and see the animals in as close to a natural habitat as possible, says Managing Director Barbara Smith.

But as with so much in the county, there is no intention of sitting still: I think everyone in Chester knows we cannot rely on our past because there is a lot of competition out there, she continues.

The continual evolution of the zoo it is constantly being added to is one of the brilliant aspects about it. An immersive exhibit about the zoos hunting dogs has proved a big recent success; likewise an animatronic dinosaur exhibition Dinosaurs at Large. The Queen and Prince Philip opened the new Diamond Jubilee Quarter in May 2012,
allowing visitors to enjoy the retail and catering facilities without paying to enter the zoo.

Currently we are working on a fantastic 30 million project called The Islands, that is going to showcase our conservation work that we are really proud of in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, taking visitors on a conservation expedition though the islands to see these animals in close to their natural environment. With the market of those within an hours drive at saturation point Barbara and her team are aiming further afield.

A shuttle bus service bookable from Euston means London visitors can be in the zoo two-and-a-half hours after boarding their direct train to Chester. Increasing the number of international visitors is the next target, but the basic mission remains constant: When our visitors come to Chester Zoo they are not only having a great British day out - they know they are investing in a good cause in terms of conservation of animals and animal welfare, she says.

Along with the big names there are some less well-known gems including one until recently a secret: If you want a surprising attraction try Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker near Nantwich, says Barrie Kelly, Thats a quirky one.

Warrington Wolves

Thanks to their 2009 and 2010 back-to-back Challenge Cup successes Warrington Wolves have gained greater national attention, though for Rugby League fans this historic club, a fixture in the top-flight since the split with Rugby Union in 1895 (the only one to claim that record) is already a famous name.

The 2003 move to a new home The Halliwell Jones Stadium increased crowd capacity to 15,200 from the 9000 at the old Wilderspool ground. Warrington Wolves represent another facet of leisure in the county, and maybe the seam of true grit in its character.

Anyone who doesnt think of sport as a tourist activity should consider one recent and one upcoming event: In 2004-5 we hosted UEFA European Womens football here, one of five stadiums in the Northwest, and those games were transmitted to 57 countries worldwide, says Andy Gatcliffe, Chief Executive of Warrington Wolves:

Next year the Rugby League World Cup is being held in England and Wales and the Halliwell Jones stadium is hosting three games how good is that for the borough-wide community? It gives a 2.5 million boost to the local economy hotels, axis restaurants...

The Halliwell Jones Stadium is a major local resource too. Mr Gatcliffe says: You cant survive in a business on a game every fortnight. You have to sweat the asset, which means that a huge range of hospitality events are held there, working with Heathcotes who on matchdays have 153 staff on site; the Warrington Primary Care Trust rents space and locates 27 health services there, plus their training suite; another tenant, Physio First, provides further steady income. But in the end this is a rugby league club, and one now at the top of the tree: Fans want to be associated with success.

We were doing crowds of 7000, now it is averaging 12000 and 40 per cent of them are ladies, with growing numbers of kids, Andy says.

The club puts a huge amount back into the community, and not just in terms of its 638 full- and part-time employees. Its Foundation, with impressive facilities in the stadium, hosts and runs numerous community activities: work placements, volunteer programmes, outreach schemes, health projects... A new development is the planned Wolves New Business Day, to help those thinking of setting up on their own. And just eight years ago this was a brownfield site.

Tatton Park
In times past Cheshire was a wealthy corner of England, thanks to its mineral riches, agriculture, and leading place in the Industrial Revolution.

It has more than its share of millionaires still, the Golden Triangle whose points are Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Prestbury, is home to a squad of Premier League players. Perhaps one day some footballers mansion will become a major visitor attraction in the county, but it is never likely to match the magnificence of Tatton Park.

Tatton Park is a 2000 acre estate, half of which is open to visitors, says the man who runs it, Brendan Flanagan: Within that there is a Grade I listed mansion house with all its original collections, about 50 acres of formal gardens including an Italian garden, Japanese garden the best in Europe according to the Japanese - a working rare breeds farm which is open to visitors, and a medieval hall.

Brendan is employed by Cheshire East Council as its Visitor Economy and Tatton Park Manager, though they dont own it: Tatton is owned by the National Trust but leased to Cheshire East Council who manage and finance it.

That relationship is important in terms of the facilities, style
and quality of the place but also how it is perceived by people because we do manage it to at least the standards of the National Trust in terms of conservation etc, but we have a slightly wider audience base and range of activities than some traditional National Trust properties - and yet it is perceived by some still as being National Trust so it does draw that audience as well, he continues.

Like Chester Zoo Tatton is nationally known: A number of things have helped that to happen, says Brendan: One of which is the annual RHS Flower Show, as it gets national press and television coverage. The arts biennial at the attraction reaches another national audience.

Not even a celebrated tourist spot like Tatton can afford to stand still. Like a larger Heligan its walled kitchen gardens were restored a decade ago; and there are plans for a major change: In terms of future developments we have one major one in planning application at the moment, a new woodland attraction called Bewilderwood, which is planned to bring in an additional 200000 visitors in its own right, says Mr Flanagan. If all goes well that will open in the spring of 2014.

Cheshire and Warrington Tourism Facts and Figures

(all figures 2010)

Visitor numbers: 44 million (41 million day visits, 3 million stays)

Estimated value to the economy: 2 billion

Estimated jobs supported by tourism: 30400

317000 stays by overseas visitors, with spend 170 million

This article appeared in Cheshire Business Life - click here to read the FREE digital edition

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