OVER two decades, the UK has developed expertise in hosting one-off events linked to long-term legacy plans, says Dr Beatriz Garcia of Liverpool’s Institute for Cultural Capital.
The original success story was Glasgow, which emerged from its year as European City of Culture in 1990 with its reputation transformed.
“It changed dramatically,” says Dr Garcia. “It had a terrible starting point, with no tourist industry at all in the ‘80s. The joke was that a tourist in Glasgow was someone who was lost.”
The idea of culture as a catalyst for transformation was new, and so there was minimal legacy planning, she says. But Glasgow benefited from effective leadership which took an intelligent approach to tourism using convention centres.
“They sold it as an easier access point to the Highlands than Edinburgh, they played the gastronomy card well and emphasised the city’s creativity.
“No-one doubted Glasgow was a centre for fashion and design with an edgy feel. Seven or eight years later, the city was completely repositioned as a leading business tourism destination.”
Liverpool took note and its leaders brought together businesses and cultural organisations to develop consistent messaging for its 2008 European Capital of Culture events.
Those networks have endured, says Garcia, who researched the impact of 2008 on Liverpool and is conducting a repeat evaluation a decade on.
“It’s changed the way the city works,” she says. “Previously people had been feeling vulnerable and in competition but it became easier to have conversations, be open, invite someone to engage and align agendas.
“Once people tried it, they could see they weren’t losing out by sharing a marketing agenda and looking at opportunities.”
The Institute of Cultural Capital’s original impact study reported 9.7 million additional visits to Liverpool, with 2.6m overseas visitors; 97% came for the first time. Among the national business community, almost nine in ten business owners were aware of the 2008 celebrations, with 68% saying it had a positive effect on Liverpool’s image. Local firms felt this change in perception, with most reporting a positive impact on turnover.
The success inspired the UK City of Culture initiative that was awarded to Derry/Londonderry in 2013 and has been followed up by Hull 2017.
“In the UK they take very seriously the legacy planning along with the big party,” says Garcia.
“London 2012 had a big cultural programme with the Olympiad… you had many organisations seeing how you could use cultural engagements to enhance prospects for business.”
The key to success, she believes, is knowing what you can sell well: “You need to decide what’s the niche. In Liverpool and Hull, for example, you can have events that link with the ports.”
The next step, she believes, is for neighbouring areas to develop alliances. Manchester, Liverpool and the Lake District could sell themselves as a joint package, she says. “There are certain areas it’s not worth constantly competing over.”
Imagery: Culture Liverpool/Royal De Luxe