West of England tourism economy

30 July 2021


30 July 2021


Blog post first published on the Visit West blog. By Matthew Tanner MBE, Chief Executive of the multi-award winning SS Great Britain Trust, President of the International Congress of Maritime Museums, Director of Visit West, and Trustee of Bristol Old Vic.

Bristol is a city bursting with creativity and innovation, famous for its art, science, music, carnivals, nightlife, and food, and of course for its iconic links to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is a vibrant and exciting city, and a place which is a destination for visitors from across the UK, and in more normal times (if you can remember those) internationally too.

I call it ‘Brunel Country’, of course, and the visitor economy in the Bristol region is one of the biggest in the UK. Tourism in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire region is worth £1.4 billion a year to the local economy, and supports over 29,000 jobs. That is more than Airbus and Rolls-Royce combined.

Nevertheless I fear we do tend to take our tourism and culture sector for granted. If we could only see our cultural attractions and hospitality industry housed in one large factory in the city then of course we would all know and value it as a major employer and source of cultural and economic wealth for us all. Instead it’s made up of a wonderful myriad of small, diverse, and often quirky businesses scattered across Bristol.

Culture is a key driver for tourism and the visitor economy, but it is important not just for its significant economic impact, it is integral to placemaking – what makes a place distinctive and special, bringing richness and enjoyment, building curiosity and connections, and supporting wellbeing.

A major recent development has been the combining of forces of Destination Bristol, the tourism support business for Bristol, with its counterpart Visit Bath, to form a new organisation, Visit West. Bristol and Bath together are an amazing set of destinations and cultural attractions worth £2.33 billion every year and supporting some 45,000 jobs. A critical mass like this propels our part of the world to be the fourth most visited city region in the country.

In the pandemic people have faced profound challenges, and our cultural sector and visitor attractions have also been hit hard. This is a crucial summer for the future of many of the member organisations in Visit West, big and small. To ensure that they are able to survive, to continue to provide significant economic benefits, supporting inclusive and sustainable growth within Bristol and beyond, then we must all visit them. It’s a fun day out, it’s time with family and friends, a unique experience, whatever it gives you we must indeed cherish this industry – use it or lose it!


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