How do you feel about your city being a tourist destination? Covid has presented us with an opportunity to recalibrate our thinking around tourism and to think about how we feel about the impact of large-scale events in our public spaces, and about how many homes in the city are being given over to short stay holiday rentals, amongst other things.

The Pandemic also presented cities with new opportunities that saw new cycle lanes opening along busy transport routes as public transport user numbers dwindled and al fresco dining popping up on newly pedestrianised roads. We spent two years thinking about our health and wellbeing, about safe outdoor public spaces for us to gather and move around, and about what work looks like when we no longer need to go to the office in town to do it.

In late 2021 Engage Liverpool, in partnership with Marketing Liverpool and Wordscape (who have prepared this reflection), opened-up a much-needed conversation about the future of our visitor economy. We had representatives from Porto and Copenhagen joining us virtually to discuss their cities committing to sustainability and having a dialogue with citizens about the impact visitors have on the city.

And we kicked off this discussion by exploring the visitor offer in our own city region through the eyes of the people that live here.

Seminar 1: Liverpool

Liverpool was the focus for our 1st seminar and we had various local personalities relating how they would host a visitor to the city region over a 48hr period. They were Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Ngunan Adamu, Jay Hynd, Jubeda Khatun and Natalie Haywood.

Their presentations were an example of the diversity of perspective in the city. They showed that many of the cherished places that residents wanted to show visitors were often not the places marketed by the city as visitor destinations. They also revealed just how much there was to see, do and experience beyond the city centre.

Seminar 2: Porto

Porto was the city choice of our 2nd seminar and our speaker was meant to be Ricardo Valente, City Councillor for Economy, Tourism and Commerce. However, on the night he was unable to be present but had asked two members of the Tourism Department in Porto Municipality to speak on his behalf. The local panel contained Cllr Harry Doyle, Cabinet Member for Culture and Visitor Economy, Laura Pye, Director National Museums Liverpool and Dr Takamitsu Jimura, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at Liverpool John Moores University.

There follows some notes taken on the night:

Tourist tax, funding and investment:

  • Porto implements a tourist tax that works to mitigate the footprint of tourism. The money used for urban cleaning amongst other things. The city also has a partnership with AirBnb to take the tax and it has totalled £18 million in a year. The city also has a fund to encourage flat owners to rent out their places to long term     residents instead and to encourage former residents back into their old living spaces
  • Public/social infrastructure investment – New green spaces have been installed around the city, plus the dispersal of revamped fairs and markets across the region
  • New build tourist accommodation is moved outside the city centre to encourage visitors to move around the region
  • A fund is available to business owners for window dressing and streetscape, and a free advisory service for retailers. This fund helped independent businesses (especially in historic areas) to maintain their authenticity while maximizing their potential

Branding:

  • The city recently rebranded its offer, showcasing new places across the region and focused on key areas – art, culture, food and drink, high-end, commercial visitors etc
  • Porto Con Sentido: Porto in Portuguese is not just a noun (meaning harbour or haven), but also a conjugated verb (in the first person singular meaning “I behave…” or “I act…” ) “com sentido” means I behave “with sense” or “sensibly”, but also implies I act “with direction or purpose…”, so the branding in this sense does not just integrate the name of the place, but also its ethical values and a codex of how to behave
  • The city offers a trust marque that hotels, hospitality businesses and short stay accommodation can apply for

Transport:

  • There is FOC public transport for children (up to 18)
  • There is digital access to public transport enabled by wide ranging and free internet access

Other points of interest:

  • 10% of the cities residents are from elsewhere (non-native)
  • The city publishes an annual sustainability report

Final thought from Diana Heredia, board member of Engage Liverpool:

“The “vibe” that I got from Porto was that the main focus was on livability for all, rather than just selling or marketing it to tourists, which in turns makes perfect sense: A city people love to live in will always be attractive to visitors and easily adopted. So despite the corporate presentation I got the impression that there was a deep sense of pride attached to Porto that went beyond tangible features. It feels like they want to make it work for residents.”

Seminar 3: Copenhagen

Copenhagen was the choice for our 3rd seminar and the speaker was Signe Jungersted, CEO and Founding Partner Group Nao. Local panellists included Mayor Joanne Anderson, Claire McColgan, Director Culture Liverpool and Dr Hazel Andrews Reader in Tourism, Culture and Society at Liverpool John Moores University.

There follows some notes taken on the night:

The evolution of the tourist offer:

  • A move from Localhood to local good – local good for everyone
  • Public campaign – ‘The end of tourism as we know it.’
  • ‘Copenhagen isn’t just anywhere, it is somewhere’
  • ‘Permanent locals, and temporary locals’ – but all locals whilst in town
  • Inspired by the idea of volunteerism – how can tourists do more, add value, take part. These examples were very powerful, many people want to make a mark and do more meaningful things than just consume
  • Ask not what locals can do for tourism, ask what tourists can do for locals
  • Tourist tax!
  • They asked people – over 2,000 – for their perspective on the strategy. A truly citizen led approach. Results can be seen here – 10xCopenhagen website
  • A focus on authenticity – how can the offer feel truly Copenhagen and how can you know what truly Copenhagen means? By thinking in this way, we can get closer to the unique city approach of Gothenburg which is aiming to be the world’s best city when it rains!

Final thought from Diana Heredia, board member of Engage Liverpool:

“The Copenhagen presentation left the impression that beyond just planning for residents the city is planning with residents and it seems like it goes beyond the tick box consultations near the end of the decision-making process that we are used to here.

What also strikes me looking at the 10xcopenhagen.com website is the self-critical analysis that spells out exactly what is good, but also what needs to improve and what doesn’t work. This is something that I feel Liverpool completely lacks: the ability to reflect without parody or without boasting about everything that works so loudly that nobody wants to think about improving what doesn’t.”

Summary and conclusion:

One of the lasting impressions of the event series was one of the final comments from an attendee who told us that as a city centre resident, she dreads the sound of wheeled suitcases on the pavement outside of her property.

One reason for this was the fact that many of the apartments around her were being used as Airbnb apartments, effecting not only her ability to find affordable accommodation in the city but also her quality of life as a permanent resident with work to go to every day whilst her tourist neighbours partied all night.

We left asking, ‘what forum does a resident have to discuss issues such as these?’

We can clearly see the value to the city in taking a citizen-driven approach. Our first event was evidence of the broad range of things to do across the region, as shown by the diverse range of participants.

Both the examples from Copenhagen and Porto show that starting with the perspective of what is good for the people of the city is good for visitors to the city, is vital in making the cities unique and sustainable travel destinations. Both cities clearly have the buy-in of local residents so that tourism doesn’t feel like an imposition, creating an us and them situation – rather the tourism, the revenue it brings in, and the very fact that tourists visit, adds value to the lives of the people that live there.

We also saw that both Porto and Copenhagen had a very authentic identity that spoke to the values of the people that live and work there. The tourist offers of both cities reflected this well and as a result was entirely unique.

Both Porto and Copenhagen also had an effective strategy to move people from the centre to other neighbourhoods and the wider city region, and in both cases made new tourist itineraries that marketed the regions effectively.

For us, this begs the question, ‘should we start with what might make the city the most livable for residents, and then work out towards an authentic tourism strategy?’

What we’d like to see is the creation of a citizen-led tourism forum for Liverpool. This forum would be brought together, in the first instance, to create a citizens vision for the city that matches the values of the people that live here. We will draw out alternative travel itineraries. And more than that, we would work out with all partners what the city needs to do to work for all of us, and how tourism can better work for residents and businesses. We will ask, what role we can all play in making the city a vibrant and sustainable tourist destination? And, How might a tourist tax, collected by a Hospitality BID, be spent if Government could be persuaded to allow it?

Throughout the series we heard about a focus on good jobs, and accreditation. Through the lens of what is good for the people who live in the city might this mean asking us to look again at the quality of hospitality jobs in the city? Could a trust mark also identify good employers, quality tourist-facing jobs, as well as venues, retailers and recommended hotels and serviced apartments?

We have an amazing and exceptional offer here in Liverpool. In addition to the beauty of the city and its landmarks, our residents are welcoming and friendly in a way that is unmatched elsewhere. That is our USP. By involving them even more in these decisions it can only enhance the visitor experience and our national and global reputation.

The above report was generously written by Andrew Beattie from Wordscape who helped to put the seminars together and who will continue to play a part in the follow-through.