Weymouth - Keeping it 'Kiss Me Quick'
Weymouth is something of a conundrum. Out of all the seaside towns we have looked at, we think this has the greatest potential, but so far has lagged behind the other towns on the south coast on ideas for regeneration.
As a quick outline of the inherent potential of the town it has:
- A beach often known as the English 'Bay of Naples' and voted best in the UK in 2017.
- The 3rd most sunshine hours in the British Isles
- Four nature reserves - two right in the middle of the town and two on the edge.
- One of the most attractive harbours in Europe (recently used as the film set for D Day).
- A Georgian seafront described as the best preserved on the south coast.
- A location, right in the centre of the UK's only natural world heritage site (The Jurassic Coast).
- Situated in the middle of and surrounded on all sides by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (which is currently being looked at as becoming a national park)
- Some of the best waters for sailing and other water sports in the UK (Hosting the 2012 Olympics)
- A fort and two castles (if you count the one on Portland)
- The 3rd largest man-made harbour in the world.
- One of the largest remaining active fishing fleets in England.
- 20 miles of in town cycle track
- An extensive history dating back to Roman times.
- A pedestrianised and attractive old town shopping centre (provided you look above the ground level)
- A famous live music scene (most town centre pubs have live music during the evening some point)
- Festivals galore, including, Folk festivals, the largest seafood festival in the UK, Victorian and military weekends, and many music festivals.
Given the above you may be excused for thinking that Weymouth would be an exception to the seaside decline, and out of all the resorts we studied, it probably has best all-around potential. Weymouth is possibly unique in the fact that it has all the key attributes of history, architecture, scenery, gastronomy and culture that have been the foundation of the regeneration plans of other resorts, as well as both a stunning beach and harbour.
However, scratch the surface and its hidden problems rise to the surface. Back in 2011,The Telegraphwrote"Weymouth’s pedestrianised shopping zone, full of mostly unremarkable souvenir shops and nondescript high street chains, and whose slightly depressed air appears to be a magnet for lager can-wielding vagrants.".
Unfortunately, since then things don't seem to have improved much, and in 2018 well over3000 crimes were 'reported' in the town centre(about 10% up on the previous year, and 66% of those were for either anti-social behaviour or violence).Four in ten people earn less than the voluntary living wage, the highest levels in the country, and Weymouth and Portland also rank theworst in the country for social mobility.
Playing the numbers game
Weymouth seems to be following a different path to the other towns in the study, with its regeneration strategy seemingly aimed at the budget end of the travel market and playing the numbers game. While other towns were using culture as a central focus to drive regeneration,Weymouth's council were trying to demolish their Pavillionto make way for the building of budget hotel chains, andseafront laserswere added to the Georgian Esplanade in an attempt 'modernise' the town.
Blackpool of the south?
Weymouth's current regeneration plans focus on several large prime development areas, in around the centre of town. All these sites are large and have direct access to either the harbour or sea, and are therefore highly desirable areas for any potential development. The jewel in the crown of these areas is 'the peninsula', which is quite likely the most prime piece of large development land on the south coast. As a piece of land about 8 acres in size that forms almost an island splitting the sea from the harbour, its reminiscent of a small 'Sandbanks'.
This area of land is planned to be Weymouth's answer to Blackpool's Pleasure Beach, with budget hotels, chain restaurants and various 'activity zones'.
The idea of taking onBlackpoolon at its own game is a tactic not confined to Weymouth, and inGreat Yarmouth, a town with a similar crime and social problems, an almost identical plan to Weymouth Peninsula is taking shape.'The Edge' Great Yarmouthis being developed as a mini Las Vegas bypleasure beach mogul Albert Jones, and will feature an 81-bed Premier Inn with a 6,000 sq ft Beefeater restaurant, 5 other branded restaurants and a 'Mega Casino'.
Targeting the budget end of the market as a 'traditional resort', may have some merits, although a recentstudy by the National Coastal Tourism Academyshows that out of all the type of seaside resort they studied the 'traditional resort' was only popular with young families and the 'lively resort' was not popular with any age group - even the young. By far the most 'popular' types of resort across the spectrum of ages was the 'harbour towns' and the 'coastal retreats', where cultural activities, local shops, traditional events, scenery and walks, were all things that we highlighted as being key reasons to visit.
Weymouth seems to have struggled with developing a cohesive identity and 'brand' which has been key to the regeneration of other towns in the study, and it may well be that this is partly due to the fact that Weymouth has all the attributes that are needed to position itself as almost any of the different types of resort category asdefined in the report. Historically Weymouth was two separate towns, and it seems that this is still evident today as and today it still can feel that way with the 'brash and budget' beach side, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the more genteel and relaxed harbour side.
One other significant consideration from the report is that the age demographic with the least disposable income were the 'young families', so targetting this demographic may not only produce limited income when they do visit but also restrict the season to school holidays.
The changing millennial market
While targetting the budget end of the tourist market and pitching itself as a 'lively resort' / 'traditional resort' may be a legitimate tactic, it seems one which could have limited appeal and longevity. The Millenial market is much more health conscious than previous generations, and as an experience provider, we are well aware of the rapidly changing trends away from 'run of the mill', and that they are more willing tospend their money on unique and quality experiencesthan previous generations. It is, therefore, no surprise to us that the 'lively resort' was the least liked category of all the resort types defined - and even amongst the young, almost double those surveyed disliked this sort of resort as liked it. What is also interesting, that the 'harbour town' category was liked by the under 35's twice as much as the 'lively resort'.
As the Millenial Generation gets older, and develop in young families, the 'kiss me quick' seaside resort is likely to struggle to attract tourism and will find itself in a descending spiral of undercutting, and underachieving.
While saying this, we do understand that there is still a large number of people where the 'lively resort' has an appeal, particularly amongst stag and hen parties looking for a 'traditional experience'. As we send over 100,000 of people on stag and hen weekends each year, we also know that their local spend can contribute significantly to the local economy. However, even the traditional 'booze centric' style stag and hen do is on the decline and being supplanted by the search for evermore unusual and unique experiences.
As an aside to the chances of success, it should also be considered if the regeneration will enhance the lives of residents outside of pure financial income. Blackpool may get around 18 million visitors per year, but it isthe most unhealthy place in England, thehas the most depressed citizens in the UKand claims themost lives through heroin overdosein the country. Weymouth may have its problems, but that doesn't sound like something many people would aspire to, even if it did bring in more visitors.
“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true!” (old Chinese proverb)
Weymouth Peninsula plans approved(Wessex FM)
Sun, sand and inequality: why the British seaside towns are losing out(The Guardian)
Half of Millennials would rather save for holidays than a house(The Independent)
An Updated Look At Why Millennials Value Experiences Over Owning Things(Forbes)
Why Millennials are Choosing Experiences Over Things(Under 30 Experiences)
Millennials are prioritizing ‘experiences’ over stuff(CNBC)
Seafront lasers to remain in place(Dorset Echo)
Olympic sailing events saw visitor drop to Weymouth and Portland(BBC News)
Coastal visitor numbers 'down a third' in 10 years(BBC News)