Chris Higgitt, operator of Higgitt’s Las Vegas Amusements, explains that despite the ongoing rail disruption, Blackpool tourism continues to benefit from the large number of visitors that travel to the town via coach and car, and highlights that low-stake amusements still occupy a unique niche in the town’s overall tourist offering.
Blackpool Council revealed that the resort town’s visit or economy exceeded £1.5bn for the first time last year, with visitor numbers rising to 18 million, in new figures published in March.
In line with this, Chris Higgitt, operator of Higgitt’s Las Vegas Amusements, reports that 2018 was a strong year for business, adding that he hopes to see this positive trend continue into the 2019 season.
“Last year, from my point of view, was very good,” he stated. “I saw a lot of day trippers coming in, so that meant a bigger turnover and more footfall, and reflecting this I saw a considerable rise in revenue for 2018.”
Higgitt notes that his business, which combines an arcade with a £1 Burger Bar, benefits from the synergies between amusements and the food and beverage component.
“While the £1 burger bar is a loss-leader to a certain extent, it remains a major draw. The low cost of the food brings people in, and while they’re here at least 50 percent of customers then spend money on the amusements as well,” he explained.
“I still make money from the food part of the business, but its primary role is to draw in customers. From the food point of view, everytime I sell an item I have to replace it, so it’s sold at a 50 percent mark-up, but what the amusements generate is pure profit.
“The strength of the pound model is that it’s very competitive and it brings people in as they can feed a family for £5, but then they’ll spend a further £10 on the amusements.”
Higgitt was keen to highlight that his business focuses on offering retro amusements, which he contends continue to occupy a key niche is Blackpool’s broader tourism landscape.
“I have a family entertainment permit and all my amusements are Cat D, but while I’m dealing with small sums of money, that’s offset by a large number of visitors,” he clarified.
“I have a lot of retro machines, two pence pushers, one-arm bandits, old-style roulette machines. I’ve also just invested in a brand new Skill Ball Bingo machine this month.
“We’re situated next door to a Prize Bingo parlour which is operated by a friend of mine. This still attracts a lot of visitors, especially older people, and we’ve seen a significant amount of crossover, so when customers come for a bingo session, they come over to me first.
“Visitors come to the town looking for that nostalgic, family-friendly seaside experience that’s synonymous with Blackpool, and that’s what we’re focused on providing.”
Blackpool Council has recently committed to further developing the resort’s tourism market, with plans for a number of keynote projects over the next three years, including the long-awaited development of the Blackpool Central site; completion of a new conference centre adjacent to the Winter Gardens; construction of several hotels; much – improved transport infrastructure including a tramway extension; and the opening of a new Blackpool Museum.
“Blackpool remains the UK’s most visited seaside destination, said head of tourism and communications at Blackpool Council Philip Welsh. “This year we seek to build on the ongoing investment by utilising Blackpool’s rich heritage and its reputation for building world class entertainment to provide new and more compelling reasons for people to come to Blackpool and more importantly stay.”
Alongside this, the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities recently published a new report calling for Blackpool to be given a ‘town deal’, which could see tens of millions of pounds pumped into the area.
“In Blackpool, the local authority has focused everything on the seafront, and while that’s good, there is still more that they could do to update the facade of the town once you get a few streets back,” Higgitt said.
“The government has recently renewed its commitment to regenerating seaside towns. While this is something that we’ve heard before over the years, if it does come to fruition it would certainly give Blackpool an additional boost.
“Though it’s important to point out that whatever changes are made have to be sustainable in the long-term.”
While the panorama for 2019 looks optimistic, hopes for a strong season for Blackpool could be derailed by fresh rail disruption over the key Easter and May bank holiday periods.
Network Rail has announced that essential track maintenance will be carried out on the West Coast Main Line and is warning bank holiday travellers of delays.
The work means that anyone from London or the South East who has booked a stay in Blackpool will have to travel via Leeds or to Birmingham and change stations there before travelling on to Lancashire.
Despite the news, while acknowledging that “transport remains an issue for Blackpool”, Higgitt remains sanguine, suggesting that a large number of visitors still travel to the town via coach or car.
“It’s difficult to quantify how much the rail disruption has affected tourism overall, as Blackpool also receives a number of coach parties and day trippers who visit the town by car,” he added.
Higgitt also observes that parking charges in the town remain “reasonable”, which helps support Blackpool’s amusements businesses.
“In Blackpool a large part of our tourism market is working class, so they wouldn’t necessarily choose to travel by train anyway, especially given that the cost of travelling by rail is in itself restrictive.
“In light of the rail disruption, it’s fortunate that this working class market remains a central part of Blackpool’s charm and core part of its identity, it’s ‘kiss me quick!’ and sticks of rock,” he concluded.