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Art Gallery's Record Year Tells Us About Manchester Tourism

Jonathan Schofield discusses MCR tourism's pluses and minuses

Written by . Published on April 11th 2014.

Art Gallery's Record Year Tells Us About Manchester Tourism

MANCHESTER Art Gallery is celebrating a record year in which it attracted more than half a million visitors for the first time. This tells us something about Manchester tourism in general - see the yellow box below.

Previously the gallery was closed on Mondays, it has been open seven days a week since summer 2012, with a late night opening until 9pm on Thursdays

From blockbuster exhibitions by art world superstars such as Grayson Perry and Jeremy Deller to arts and health and learning activities, the gallery's hugely varied programme attracted 514,852 visitors between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014.

This is almost 100,000 more than the 415,785 visitors in the corresponding period in 2012-13.

The figure smashed projections and with 8,531 visitors in the first few days of 2013/14 (up to Sun 6 April), Manchester Art Gallery looks set for another bumper year, with shows including the current exhibition from Joanna Vasconcelos: Time Machine and The Sensory War.

Visitors have also responded well to the gallery’s increased opening hours, which have been funded by the gallery's Development Trust.

Where previously the gallery was closed on Mondays, it has been open seven days a week since summer 2012, with a late night opening until 9pm on Thursdays. 

Holman Hunt's Hireling Shepherd in Manchester Art Gallery

Holman Hunt's Hireling Shepherd in Manchester Art Gallery

Visitors have attended educational programmes too. More than 58,000 people have been part of the learning sessions – 26,500 family members, 18,000 school pupils and 13,200 adult learners – delivered by around 500 volunteers. 

Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of Manchester City Galleries and Whitworth Art Gallery, said: "Our vision to present internationally important art has not only brought economic benefit to the city, but is obviously meeting local residents' desire for higher quality programming. We have a fantastic range of exhibitions and events coming up this year too, so we hope to build on the great success of 2013/14."

Tourism On The Up

The official figures show approximately 1.1 million international visitors a year come to Greater Manchester. The region is the third most popular destination in the UK for overseas visitors to Britain. With many of those taking a trip to Manchester Art Gallery.

Now Central Library has triumphantly re-opened surely we must create weekend breaks around library visits, maybe even conjour up a library festival.

Meanwhile the city’s tourism industry generates £6.6 billion a year for the local economy and supports 84,000 full-time equivalent jobs. 

It's all good stuff.

Confidential knows why tourism has grown so much since the reconstruction after the IRA bomb.

Spinningfield's heatwaveSpinningfield's heatwaveWe have better festivals, better hotels, better restaurants, better pubs and bars, two successful football teams not one (despite United's blip), better infrastructure, better art galleries, more museums, better and more frequent guided tours and whole new districts such as Spinningfields and MediaCityUK. The Christmas markets are now so big you can’t see Easter for them. 

Not everything is rosy in the garden of course. Retail is a problem. In terms of variety and appeal this has flatlined, under pressure from infestations of out of town malls, general economic conditions and changes in consumer behaviour as the world falls in love with digital.

Aside from retail there is one other major deficiency hindering Manchester from reaching its true tourist potential.


In capitals. 

Manchester can be cavalier compared with other tourist locations about what may seem relatively minor, and low cost, aspects of tourist provision.

Our flower beds and central gardens, limited in scale as they are, are never maintained as well as those in traditional ‘tourist’ cities. This is especially a problem since we don't have a major central green space until the council and business see sense and really exploit Castlefield with a series of pocket parks. 

After ten years (I know I've been in most of them) of costly debate, meetings, and reports, wayfinding has never been sorted. How does a tourist leaving Piccadilly Station easily find their way to the main central destinations without a map or good luck? Simple. They don't. They have to stumble about until they happen upon them.

The Visit Manchester staff at the information centre on Portland Street, and the city tour guides do a marvellous job in opening out the city for people, but a real boost was given in 2013 by a Business Improvement District (BID) initiative (see the BID article here).

The city centre 'hosts' that have been employed are excellent - with one caveat.

It’s a shame the hosts scheme covers such a limited geographical area – King Street, St Ann’s Square, the Arndale and Market Street. In other words the area in which the shops that pay for the scheme are located.

It would be better for everybody if they patrolled from Oxford Road Station to Victoria Station and from Piccadilly Station to Castlefield. 

We are also particularly poor as a city about telling our story. There are scarcely any displays in key locations outside Castlefield explaining historical context and the city’s significance – indeed, Manchester’s approach on the street at key locations in communicating what has been achieved and what people can see is poor or inconsistent.

Tourism is a visceral foot-to-the-ground experience, pacing the city, learning as you go. Smart phones, the great hope of tourism authorities everywhere who want to cut costs, help, but do not replace the need for information boards, better ground-level information, leaflets, guidebooks and above all, people. One day we may live in a digital tourism nirvana but not yet.

Still, the picture is brighter than it's ever been for tourism, and speaking personally as a tour guide as well as Manchester Confidential editor, I've seen a huge increase in tourists to the city in recent years. Work for the thirty odd official guides in Manchester has never been more available. 

But it's not just guides who've noticed this.

Ask the tourism professionals across many sectors and they will underline how much stronger the city region has become as a tourist destination over the last fifteen years.

So not only have many in the industry in Manchester never had it so good but, more importantly, neither have our visitors in terms of what they can see, do and experience in the city.

Manchester can be cavalier compared with other tourist locations about what may seem relatively minor, and low cost, aspects of tourist provision.

Perhaps the next step for the tourist authorities is to identify the things we are very good at even though they may not be obvious.

Phil Griffin on these pages has written about this. For example what about libraries?

Fox Courtyard - Chetham'sFox Courtyard - Chetham's Now Central Library has triumphantly re-opened surely we must create weekend breaks around library visits, maybe even conjure up a library festival.

We have the beautiful and unparalleled foursome of Chetham's, Portico, John Rylands and Central. Of course the libraries will have to be persuaded to open at weekends; for instance it's ridiculous that Central Library doesn't do so on Sundays.  

But it would be grand to work on key global tourist markets and get high-spending cultural visitors poring over our priceless first editions, manuscripts and illuminated wonders.

That would only increase money coming into the economy and help build upon the sterling work of Manchester Art Gallery and others. 

Jonathan Schofield 


City Sunshine 028Manchester International Festival 2013

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50 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

SquirrelitoApril 11th 2014.

Excellent stuff Jonathan! (you've got years back to front though ;)

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldApril 11th 2014.

Not sure what you mean Squirrelito.

AnonymousApril 11th 2014.

The library idea sounds great. I have no doubts this would be a great success Hopefully this is something that happens in the not too distant future. Things that need to be improved and pursued in my opinion are the levels of litter and rubbish, we get a right kicking on the internet for the levels of it. Piccadilly Gardens, an utter embarrassment regardless of what the MPs might think. The Met, far too unreliable and doesn't compare to other cities public transport systems in Europe. Not everyone is tucked up in bed by 1am! And we need to get more long haul flights operating to and from Manchester. There are 100,000's of people travelling from or to the North West via a London airport. That's money and jobs not being made in Manchester and we need to actively change that, as has happened with the announcement this week regarding flights from China. And United need to get back in the Champions League :(

AnonymousApril 11th 2014.

As fantastic as Central Library is, how can it be classed as a tourist destination?

6 Responses: Reply To This...
ShybaldbuddhistApril 11th 2014.

Because people from abroad will visit it when they are here?

Jonathan SchofieldApril 11th 2014.

Easy Anon. It's a tourist destination because I guide people around the city and I've already taken people in there several times and they've all gone 'wow'. A city to be a destination needs at least five city centre sights that make people go wow. We easily pass this test. But as always a tourist city is one that has a number of places to visit and enjoy, it's cumulative.

AnonymousApril 11th 2014.

John Rylands for it's main reading room and stair case/Deansgate entrance perhaps. CL is a great building and a fully functioning library + plus all of the new electronic wizardry, but I would be taking guided tour through it. Having a nosey whilst on holiday in the city maybe.

Ghostly TomApril 12th 2014.

A friend from Australia emailed me to tell me that she had heard that Central Library was open again and it was top of her list to visit when she comes later this month. Just hope she doesn't want to go on a Sunday. It should be open. 3.5 million would cover it. Did they have that amount in the budget? Oh they did but spent it on an unnecessary entrance to the library, blocking elegant Library Walk when there is a perfectly sensible entrance that the city has been using for the last 80 years on St. Peter's Square. I like the idea of the pocket parks bringing green to the city. There are a series of tree surrounded surface car parks between China Town and Canal Street (both big tourist draws) that could be converted into little gardens. And I have an idea that the car park at the centre of China Town could be converted into a Chinese inspired garden overlooked by terraces where you could eat and drink outside the restaurants.

Ghostly TomApril 12th 2014.

Is it possible to visit Chetham's Library at the weekend when a lot of visitors come. I tried a couple of years ago and was told it was only open in the week when the school was open.

Jonathan SchofieldApril 12th 2014.

It's closed on the weekends as per its set-up in the 1650s. That might change though in the next few years. It's open during the week to its own timetable not the schools, so open during holidays etc...

DavidApril 12th 2014.

The Central library closes at 5pm on Friday and Saturday and all day Sunday thanks to the clueless ,austerity mouthing,Labour council. It won't change because that's the mentality of the the public sector unions,and they are the ones funding Labour.

6 Responses: Reply To This...
GimboidApril 12th 2014.

Yes David, we're aware that it's the council that decide the opening hours, and that you don't like them. This post tells us nothing we didn't already know. Change the record lad.

DavidApril 12th 2014.

Yes let's change the record from the tired old Labour one running this city.The same old tired leadership that ignores public opinion with the same old cheerleaders like you Gimboid.

GimboidApril 12th 2014.

You're hilarious. If you can find a single post on this site where I have done anything remotely approaching 'cheerleading' the city council (which you won't), I'll eat my hat.

AnonymousApril 12th 2014.

Town Hall apparatchik, Gimboid, just can't deal with anyone criticising his/her "beloved" Labour council can he/she? Such a sensitive soul.

DavidApril 12th 2014.

To be fair he is at least defending them,which is more than Leese manages,as he seems incapable,of putting his record up for scrutiny with any journalists.We have the second city in the country led by a man with no national public profile after nearly two decades.

GimboidApril 12th 2014.

Anonymous, I'm sure you the same Anon I've told this to before, but here goes again: I don't support the council, I don't work for the council, I'm not a Labour voter, and I've only ever been publicly critical of the council in the past.

AnonymousApril 12th 2014.

I think you're missing a couple of key points about opening Central Library on a Sunday. Firstly the money for library walk is sure to be capital funding and would never be available to pay for staff. It's an infrastructure project and the library staff will have little say in what happens. Secondly, how can Manchester close some of its libraries outside the city centre, cut staffing across the board and then suddenly find a few million to open Central on a Sunday? The £3 million you mention would probably keep a couple of community libraries open for few years.

6 Responses: Reply To This...
DavidApril 12th 2014.

Why would this Labour council do anything when it still spinning the same old record about austerity,as a justification for not being to do anything. They also got a much increased dividend from MAG this year as a result of the airport they bought in London.Heaven forbid they actually spend it on something that benefits the people of Manchester rather than subsidising more non productive public sector jobs.

GimboidApril 12th 2014.

"£14.5m To Clean The City - Manchester to spend Airport Dividend on rubbish" www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/14m-To-Clean-The-City… I hope supplying factual information doesn't count as cheerleading in your distorted word view.

DavidApril 12th 2014.

Cleaning the city centre should not require raiding a special dividend,it's something any half decent council would do as a matter of course. Gimboid you are far to soft on the council,too ready to find excuses for their failures and that's far softer than you are on readers comments that irritate you.

GimboidApril 12th 2014.

You can't admit when you're plainly incorrect, can you? Again, please find a single instance when I've made an excuse for the councils' failures.

DavidApril 12th 2014.

Gimboid you are clearly unable to distinguish between fact and opinion when it comes to yourself.

Duke FameApril 13th 2014.

Why is it £3m? How many staff does it take? I'd suggest cutting the staff wages if it really costs £3m. I share David's distrust of the Labour council but can't agree that Leese has no profile. The man is a walking ego, we really shouldn't know or care who the local town clerk is, it's a little role for someone who couldn't get a job in the productive sector, Leese & Bernstein manage to get themselves a public profile despite having no talent whatsoever.

GimboidApril 12th 2014.

"They also got a much increased dividend from MAG this year as a result of the airport they bought in London.Heaven forbid they actually spend it on something that benefits the people of Manchester" Implication: the council aren't spending the dividend on something that benefits the people of Manchester. Fact: the dividend is being spent on street cleaning and environmental improvements, which IS something that benefits the people of Manchester. Which part of this is opinion??

2 Responses: Reply To This...
DavidApril 12th 2014.

Cleaning the streets is something that should not need money from a special dividend to be done.You clearly think otherwise.Thats your opinion. You clearly have no problem with investing in London airports either.Despite the fact that creates a clear conflict of interest, as Manchester will competing for transport resources against another city in which it owns a major airport that requires vast public expenditure to improve the speed of its rail link,to increase its passenger figures and profits.

GimboidApril 12th 2014.

No, I actually agree with you on that principle. But you implied that the dividend wasn't being spent on something that would be spent on public benefit, and on that you were clearly wrong - trying to shift the point won't change that. I can't imagine how you've attempted to divine my opinion on MAG's investment strategy - I don't have one. You do have a tendency to add 2 + 2 to make 5. Classic paranoia symptoms.

SamApril 13th 2014.

Reading all this, yet again it seems clear Gimboid is a 'cheerleader' of the 'old hat' establishment. I imagine a Councillor with thinly guised excuses and constant justifications (in every story). The same people arguing over and over is so tedious. Clearly Gimboid has a superiority complex if nothing else. Less time 'ranting' under a pseudonym would be extremely welcome. At least some of the others are as funny as they are mad. Gimboid is just dull and seems to be here to make exactly the same congratulory points over and over with the arrogance of 'knowing everything'. It is tiring to see the comments always being dominated by him/her and bores me as a reader and sure puts people off from commenting. It certainly takes any fun out of it. Time to 'ration' their over contributions and deterring others from having opinions or risk their clearly personal attacks?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
GimboidApril 13th 2014.

Call me what you like, but stop calling me a cheerleader for the council because it's nonsense. But yeah, point taken. I'll shut up for a bit.

AnonymousApril 14th 2014.

Who made you the forum police Sam? Personally I don't mind Gimboid's contributions - a sensible and apparently well informed counterbalance to the reams of ill informed, hysterical, loony clap-trap some people post on here. And I say that as an ordinary person with no particular axe to grind. Reasoned debate is good. Criticism is good. Positive comment is good. Balance is good. Obsessive and misleading spamming, intentional or otherwise has got to be a bad thing right?

JoanApril 14th 2014.

Can I clarify? The £14.5 million extra airport dividend is being spent on one-off 'Clean and Green' projects across the whole city of Manchester, and not spent on the everyday cleaning budget. MCC is about to purchase brand new bins, initially for the city centre. These will be installed over the coming months. The wages of the people who clean our streets comes from the same funding source as in the past.

Steve RomanApril 14th 2014.

You could also add the Law Library to your library tour, Jonathan. It's beautiful, though only open to the public for Hertitage Open Days, some years.

Lynette CawthraApril 14th 2014.

And there's always that 'oasis of thought, political debate and badges', Salford's Working Class Movement Library. Currently only open the third Sat of the month (also this year on 13 Sept for Heritage Open Days) but always willing to think more broadly, particularly if anyone's pondering putting in a grant application to fund longer opening hours...

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 14th 2014.

Surely this would come under "Salford Tourism"?

Jonathan SchofieldApril 14th 2014.

Lynette, absolutely, although a bit of a hike - although a fascinating one - from the city centre. More free buses perhaps...

Ed GlinertApril 14th 2014.

As the city’s joint most prolific tour guide (with you, Jonathan) and an author for three major publishing houses, I’m going to make a few points. The international visitor numbers are spurious. They include everyone who uses Manchester Airport, many of whom immediately leave for Chester, Liverpool, the Lake District and Yorkshire. They can’t be counted as authentic visitors. Go to Munich, a similar city in a similar country and then you’ll see what big visitor numbers and tours mean. 8 tours going off from Marienplatz four or five times a day every day. Your comment “We are particularly poor as a city about telling our story” is absolutely spot-on. I’ve been pushing the council and Marketing Manchester for years to address the problem that no serious informative interesting literature is given to visitors so that they can find out at a glance the glories of the city, and so they continue to remain a mystery to all but the cognoscenti. I’ve pushed for something simple and brilliant in all hotel rooms, libraries and visitor centres: a glossy leaflet: “The 7 Wonders of Manchester”, plus more specialist offerings “The 7 Wonders of Manchester Music/Art/Architecture and so on.” And I’ve copyrighted this by the way. The internet can never rival the simple pleasure of being given something well-written, beautifully designed and easy to understand which would grab the tourist’s attention and set them on the road to discover the city. We have to try harder in Manchester as we do not have the sea, a rival to the Beatles, a Burj Khalifa or a Tate. What we do have is an endlessly fascinating history which I have devoted my life to pushing, but it is not properly promoted. For instance we have the world’s oldest railway station yet there is no sign outside and the entrance is locked up. Imagine that was in America; how they would endlessly plug it! We have Europe’s oldest library in Chetham’s but most people think there’s no public access. We have a 1421 Charter signed by Henry V in the Cathedral and it’s hidden away! I’ve constantly pushed for access to no avail. In Salisbury one can see the Magna Carta but in Manchester we hide our main charter. John Rylands Library is a worthy treasure but the Deansgate entrance absurdly remains locked. Our only authentic Roman remains are inaccessible and locked up. One day this will change but I’ll probably be getting my telegram from the Queen first.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomApril 15th 2014.

Lots in here to think about.Does the council have anyone in charge of promoting tourism? I have lived in Manchester all my life and have never managed to access Chetham's Library which seems closed at the weekend when many people are in the city to see things. I thought the charter disappeared years ago, the fact that it's not on view somewhere is silly. If it's fragile, at least get a copy done? And what is it with Manchester libraries building new glass entrances and locking up the original ones? I hope that's not what they plan to do at Central Library. And having that not opened on a Sunday is a mistake. no money? Now where could they have found, say £3.5 million to fund that I wonder?

AnonymousApril 15th 2014.

You are obviously very knowledgeable and very passionate about this. Why wont the people listen to you and Jonathan? The points you both make sound like common sense to me. I've never understood why more isn't made of the railway history we have. And I can't understand where there was any debate about what to do with the Coronation St set now they have moved. It's the longest running soap opera in the world with fans far and wide. It's a no brainer what should happen to it. Are the people in charge of tourism and marketing in Manchester up to the job? Or do we need to employ people who understand how it works, who have previous experience from working in other cities that get these sorts of things right.

Mark FullerApril 15th 2014.

I'm aware of the May 14 1301 Charter and the 29th March 1853 Royal Charter bestowing city status to Manchester, but I don't know anything about the 1421 Charter signed by Henry V. Is this the cities main or most important charter? I'd also like to know the precise date of this 1421 Charter, if anyone knows it.

Jeff HoyleApril 14th 2014.

I live in Norfolk but often travel up to watch Bury play. A couple of weekends ago we brought up with us a couple of friends who have been so impressed about me ranting on about the Shakers that they wanted to see for themselves. We made a long weekend of it and took the tram into Manchester on Sunday, and I would agree with much of what was said in the article above. I had read here that the library had been refurbished and got off the tram outside to see it, but it was closed. The Rylands was excellent, especially as musicians from the Halle were doing improvised performances. We looked in the church on St Annes Square and the Cathedral, part of the art trail the guide at the Rylands had suggested - had no idea about the charter so didn't see it. Had a look in the football museum which we all thought was very good. We visited the Art gallery last time and saw the Grayson Perry, so didn't bother this time. I would have liked to go back to the Peoples museum but lack of time and information precluded that so we went across to Salford and had a walk around the Quays. In short, we had a really good day, saw some great stuff but felt that the marketing and information available could be improved. Not part of the topic, but we also liked the Baum in Rochdale, loved walking around my old home town of Ramsbottom and thought Bury as a town was coping really well with the current difficult times. Compared with the half dozen stalls we have on Kings Lynn market, our friends were very impressed with Bury.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomApril 15th 2014.

You should have gone into the Art Gallery again to see the extraordinary Joana Vasconcelos exhibition.

AnonymousApril 15th 2014.

Before we talk about improving tourism, we desperately need to get the basics right. 1st and most importantly, street cleaning. I live and work in this great city but let's face it, compared to other major cities across Europe, mcr is a DUMP. Not enough time and money is spent on this and needs sorting fast. 2nd begging. The bane of every major city. But nothing is being done to control this. Over aggressive beggars is a massive distraction of what is great about mcr especially to visitors. Get the basics right and then we can move onwards.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldApril 15th 2014.

Anon, Manchester is not a dump although it can have terrible litter clearance problems at pressure point times on weekends and during festivals; the Rochdale canal can be tragic too. But I take lots of overseas visitors around and as long as I steer clear of Piccadilly then they usually compliment the city on it cleanliness. Of course they don't see it every day, but to say Manchester is worse with litter clearance then comparable European cities is wide of the mark. It can be better though.

Alex24April 15th 2014.

He's right about the begging though - I've noticed it's getting worse.

AnonymousApril 15th 2014.

I live just off Great ancoats street and walk to and from work on Oxford Street every day, and trust me it's not just litter that's the problem, food waste and vomit is not cleaned quick enough The fact the night street cleaning is so minimal is the problem, as stressed on Man.Conf in the past. I also work at spinningfields, and i know that is private enterprise, they are a credit on how they keep it so tidy. As I said, I live and work here and I am not a tourist, I just want to live in a cleaner and more council caring environment

AnonymousApril 15th 2014.

The Charter was available for viewing as part of the Manchester Histories Festival. Hopefully will be on permanent display in the future.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ed GlinertApril 25th 2014.

I've approached the Cathedral formally and informally to get the various charters on permanent display - to no avail. In Salisbury Cathedral one can see the Magna Carta itself; in Manchester everything is hidden away. The Cathedral does not intend showing their treasures because, I fear, they just don't understand what tourism means, something endemic across Manchester sadly. We have the most remarkable history but it's kept a secret for reasons which continue to baffle me as a prominent tour guide and much-published author. We have to try even harder in Manchester because we haven't got London's or Liverpool's assets. Instead we make a very poor effort.

AnonymousApril 19th 2014.

"Now Central Library has triumphantly re-opened surely we must create weekend breaks around library visits, maybe even conjour up a library festival." … I rather like that word "conjour", it sounds very European.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldApril 19th 2014.

Thanks - changed back to English

Peter CoppingApril 24th 2014.

The Hotel figures I think show that football is the major generator of visitors. I suspect most of the moaners don't actually live in the City of Manchester and don't pay local taxes here. I am slightly concerned that some of those commenting can't find the tourist office.

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