Comment writer Nathan Farrington describes how Birmingham can continue with its success from the Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games provided the city with a unique experience that will be remembered in all of its various aspects. Many university students will recall the campus transformation for the hockey and squash events, as well as the colourful posters plastered over every available wall in the city. And who could forget the immense, mechanical bull unleashed in the Opening Ceremony? But it wasn’t only a sense of excitement that was generated by this event.
Recent reports have estimated that the Games supplied the UK economy with £870 million in revenue. Over half of this benefitted local businesses that witnessed unprecedented levels of popularity thanks to the high tourist numbers created by the event. Council planners, invigorated by this success, are attempting to find new ways to harness Birmingham’s commercial potential on a long-term basis.
I share the belief that Birmingham can boost its status as a major tourist destination. As of 2019, the city was only seventh on the list of most popular tourist areas in the UK. To climb up this list, Birmingham can implement the lessons it learned from the 2022 Commonwealth Games to become more attractive to visitors and investors.
I propose two methods to do this: strengthening the arts and cultural attractions of the city and utilising Birmingham’s symbolic features more prominently.
Birmingham’s tourist status depends on cultivating cultural spaces that make the city a desirable destination to visit. One building that should be at the heart of this initiative is the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
The site is located in Victoria Square, the epicentre of activity in Birmingham. 2022 alone witnessed various temporary attractions around this square for events such as the Commonwealth Games, PoliNations, and the Christmas Market. With high visitor figures for each of these, the nearby Museum & Art Gallery failed to fully capitalise on this tourist opportunity.
During these events, the museum was only partially opened and information on the website now indicates that it will be closed for the remainder of 2023. For a museum in such a prominent location, the delays to its reopening are unnecessary and disable one of the city’s greatest tourist attractions from wider public access.
As the museum is free to enter, substantial revenue isn’t directly generated by tickets to visit the site. A fully available and appealing attraction, however, can bring in local and international tourists to the heart of Birmingham where many private businesses depend on high customer numbers. It is the wider regional economy that benefits from a fully operational cultural centre in Birmingham’s busiest zone. Moving forward, the museum’s significance deserves higher prioritisation in the city.
I accept that museums and art galleries are not for everyone, so the independent establishments found in Digbeth offer a suitable alternative for tourists visiting the city. During the Commonwealth Games, the area was close to the Smithfield site which hosted a family park and beach volleyball events. More investment is being pumped into this neighbourhood every year with the regeneration of former industrial sites creating vibrant destinations for a plethora of activities.
Anyone familiar with this area will also know that the road is perpetually blocked for repairs and the alleged installation of a tramway service. These delays have a serious economic impact on the area. First of all, it has blocked pathways making pedestrian accessibility less viable. For a tourist during the Games, these obstructions disincentivised many to visit Digbeth when reaching it was such a challenge. Secondly, businesses in Digbeth are struggling to survive due to the constraints of construction that have been prolonged by more than a year. Under more effective time frame management, the pressure on Digbeth’s independent businesses can be relieved.
Greater accessibility to Digbeth and a more refined transport system from the city centre benefits all aforementioned parties. The regeneration of this area would continue to inspire independent enterprises to develop attractive spaces available to the local community and the wider tourist market.
The Commonwealth Games also forced its organisers to be introspective and attempt to understand what features of Birmingham’s identity were most celebrated. This aspect of the event was handled exceptionally well, with the industrial, multicultural, and optimistic nature of Birmingham’s ethos exhibited in every aspect of the competition.
The reason the mechanical bull attracted the popularity it did was that the structure became a signifier of the city’s industrial heritage. Equally, the bright posters of the game were a manifestation of the diversity of lifestyles and cultures that exist within the city.
More attractions could be designed in the city that are able to evoke the same sense of pride in these common identity traits Birmingham possesses. Embracing Birmingham’s industrial productivity, special areas dedicated to some of Birmingham’s biggest brands would see Cadbury’s, HP Foods, and Bird’s Custard develop commercial centres in the city. Museums celebrating workers’ contributions to the city, like Manchester’s People’s History Museum, would also be a relevant and popular addition.
Whether you enjoy them or not, Birmingham also possesses two major brands in the form of Black Sabbath and Peaky Blinders. Both featured in the Games’ Closing Ceremony and the international recognition of these two phenomena have done a lot to put Birmingham firmly on the map. I still recall a hotel manager in Southern Spain claiming she had heard of the city because of the BBC programme. Music centres that celebrate Birmingham’s broad selection of artists like those found in Liverpool as well as Peaky Blinder merchandising could prove invaluable in boosting visitor numbers in the long term.
The Commonwealth Games, as the organisers have stated, is the start of Birmingham’s ‘Golden Decade of Opportunity’, not its conclusion. Using the ideas I have set forward in this article, Birmingham can establish attractions that recognise the cultural features it already possesses while stimulating economic growth for the tourist sector.
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