‘Being an active citizen involves informal participation, community activity, informing decisions, campaigning, engaging with public services, petitioning, protesting and having a real stake in the place where you live. It means taking an interest in what happens locally and having a voice. You should feel able to influence your community’s future and be willing to share what you know.’ — from ‘Growing A Stronger Democracy From The Ground Up’ The Democracy Commission Report (2017)
A city that works for residents works for tourists. So what part can those who live and work in Liverpool play to make Liverpool a place where both tourists and residents thrive?
In late 2021 we held a three-part event series that sparked this question. The series was about tourist destinations and we heard from people in Liverpool, Porto and Copenhagen, who shared the things and ideas that make their city great. The events touched on identity, transport, the cherished places and institutions of each city and, importantly, quality of life.
Our big takeaways from the event were that authenticity mattered, and that cities that embedded the real values and perspectives of its citizens in their offer, flourished as tourist destinations. It was about more than a city simply playing host, but about a relationship, where one thing feeds the other in interesting and meaningful ways.
This year, with the lessons we learned firmly rooted in our minds, we hosted three conversations where we asked people, firstly, what they valued and learnt from their experiences as tourists elsewhere, and then, what experiences do we imagine that tourists in Liverpool have and finally we revisited the seminar series by reflecting upon what would make our city an even better tourist destination.
Here are some of the things we heard in these conversations:
Stories from our travels, Saturday 20th April 2022
What we heard about what people from Liverpool look for when going abroad:
- People love to be surprised
- ‘Taste of another life’, the flavour of a place, the food and drink of the locals
- Fresh air, different conversations with those with whom you are traveling
- Looking for something unusual to us
- Desire to be ‘part of the fabric’ of a place
- Travel is always a gamble – exciting to see what will emerge
- ‘Otherness’ in travel and the impact on yourself that has
- Important to have the option to see tourist locations from the top of the Hop-on Hop-off bus tours
- Desire to ‘belong’ in a new place
- Desire to ‘understand‘ a place, to find its soul
- A city visit should have a ’joyful’ aspect
- Looking for a ‘connection’
- Parks and playgrounds for everyone in the heart of a city, places to rest, pause, relax, enjoy the people
- Walkable places
- Independent bars, cafes, restaurants and shops
- Looking especially for something distinct, authentic, unique about a place
- If a local can show you around that is very special and memorable
- Some AirBnB packages include a local host to take you around
- Importance of annual events in a place, festivals etc.
- Tradition and heritage are important aspects of travel
- Culture is crucial too
- Important to enable or encourage relationships, connections to take place
- Different types of tourists, different budgets, expectations
- Accidental tourism – where there is another motive for a visit eg football fans at a match, business persons at a conference, concert goers etc
- Learning to be a good host as a local, as well as being a good guest as a visitor
Tourists in our Liverpool home, Saturday 28th May 2022
What we heard when we discussed what tourists might find in Liverpool:
- Role of festivals (in reaching national, regional and local audiences)
- They come for the Beatles, for LFC, for Culture
- They visit the Royal Albert Dock
- Stag and Hen parties
- Waterfront is the postcard view
- Tourism now spreading to Crosby, Wirral and will soon hit Prescot (Shakespeare in the North)
Places – opportunities
- No tourists in Fazakerley
- Liverpool city centre has few places to linger/hang out like parks or green spaces or public squares with inviting seating and planting etc.
- Losing green spaces to development in the city centre
- More green spaces not less was a post-Covid learning
- Young people don’t have many places to go
- Everyone helps visitors with directions including walking with visitors to their destination, showing them good places to eat, buying them coffee!
- Many are real ambassadors for the city on a daily basis
- It is a very welcoming city – even to football fans!
- To be a good host there is a need to get our house in order, to be welcoming to guests, improve the transport system which doesn’t work for residents (too expensive, twice the cost of London public transport), bike lanes, walkability
- Through emigration people have been coming to/through Liverpool for hundreds of years
- Comments about visitor experience to the city was overwhelmingly positive
- What we do best is play host
- A positive experience
Destination Liverpool revisited – Saturday 25th June 2022
We asked – what would the best visitor experience to Liverpool and City Region look like? What steps can we take to work towards this vision? Describe the role residents might play in this process?
Navigation and conversation
- Liverpool and the surrounding areas. What is our relationship with the other places in the region? How do we describe what Southport is to visitors? Why do we go there? How do we tell these stories?
- Where is the joy and wow? How have we mapped our assets and destination points? Is there a tourist or city guide we would recommend?
- Could transport – buses and trains – share these points? ‘You are now arriving at (x), get off here for (y).
- Which bus do I get to go to a park? Could we use buses and bus stops to make it clear that this bus goes right to one of the parks? Getting visitors to use public transport.
- Could we make LCR the easiest region to navigate?
- Does signage work for all? Good walking, cycling routes etc?
- Could we sell journeys as well as destinations? The things along the routes, the journey over the Mersey or through the tunnel?
- Where are our tourist information spaces?
- Cycling leaders to take you to venues on two wheels!
- Local people who sign up to become ambassadors – easy to find and ask questions of. Learning the stories worth telling. Could this be a campaign to get everyone to sign up? This worked in 08 and the Canal and River Trust have a ranger programme currently.
- Could we create a map of places, businesses and other venues that actively invest in the city?
- A City Tax is inevitable and necessary, we already pay in when abroad without complaint
- Safe spaces to gather and connect with other people and the city. We have lots but how do you find them and encourage street activity?
Importantly, from all conversations, we reflected on the fact that people know what it’s like to be a tourist here, because we are tourists elsewhere.
There are clear themes here, particularly between the things people love about the places they visit, and the offer in Liverpool. The key themes appear to be:
- A walkable and easy to navigate city
- Spaces to gather and linger, and to organise
- Authenticity and local independent businesses
- Festivals, events, culture and heritage
- Joy and Wow
One of the defining lessons in the presentations from both Porto and Copenhagen from 2021 is that citizen engagement in the tourist offer in the city leads to a positive experience for both residents and those that visit a place.
What we are proposing is a citizen’s forum that can help to supercharge the city’s offer. To make it more authentic. To release the city’s best and biggest asset, its people. This is about trying to acknowledge and celebrate something the city already has in abundance. It’s about giving real pride and ownership to residents regarding the city’s tourism offer. It is empowering and encouraging everyone to play their part in welcoming and assisting visitors ‘In our Liverpool Home’.
Our aim is to pull together a list of commitments for both the city and the people that live and work here. We’re thinking of this as a new Welcome to Our Liverpool Home. A vision for the most authentic version of the city and one that relies on us all to play our part.
This will include:
- Joy, wow and surprise
- How we get tourists to Fazakerley etc.
- Spaces to gather and to linger
- The citizen as an ambassador
- The need for meaningful conversations around a city tax
- What the city can expect from its citizens
- What citizens can expect from their city
- A demand for a clean and green city
- Good and secure jobs in the visitor economy
- Quality of life and good health
- An authentic offer
- The development of a trust marque for businesses that can evidence investment in people, place and the environment
- A sense of place that is unique
Citizen involvement in this means ensures that we will develop a more authentic experience. We won’t be like anybody else – we will be Liverpool. And what is good for our residents will be good for our visitors. It is a welcome home to tourists, but also to ourselves as citizens.
We think that this is a better tourism offer. A chance to visit a flourishing Liverpool with engaged citizens. A city that is easy to navigate and to access high quality happenings across an entire region. A city full of spaces to sit and connect with other tourists and locals that are safe, clean and green.
This goes beyond simply marketing the city and asks fundamental questions about how the people who live in Liverpool benefit from tourists coming here. It’s about what value tourists add – both financially, and from an experience perspective. How about offering the opportunity to visitors to work alongside us in our projects as volunteers for a day or more?
We will be engaging with the city to discuss the next steps for this project and to ensure that we get citizen involvement in discussions around travel and tourism in the city so that our ideas and perspectives are heard.
After this, who knows! But we hope to welcome you home to Liverpool soon to show you a sustainable and citizen-led tourist offer for the region.
Text prepared by Andrew Beattie Wordscape