Colchester is steeped in a rich history that many towns would be envious of, yet somehow we don’t seem to fulfil our potential and become the tourist destination we could be. Scott Everest takes a look at what could be done to change that and really put this town of ours on the map.
What is wrong with Colchester?
On the face of it nothing, there are only a handful of places in the United Kingdom that can boast the incredible heritage that our fair town has in abundance.
It has been noted that 42 million people visited the county of Essex in 2015.
Colchester Zoo does not subscribe to any of the industry measurements so is hard to understand its performance, however all other attractions in Colchester are down 11% on average (from the Government’s Case Tourism Data) with only Colchester Castle showing an upturn in visitors bucking the trend.
It is an assumption, but with Tourism we seem to be in regression.
There is £3 billion on the table from inbound tourism to the UK, but even with one of the most unique heritage portfolios in the region Colchester does not seem to have any advantage.
Meanwhile, in the Cotswolds, 50,000 Japanese Tourists visit each year and spend £1.5 million in the local economy. The stay occasion was just to take pictures of the picturesque local villages. It is estimated that in 5 years’ time Chinese tourism will match that figure, producing a combined Asian input of £5 million into the local economy per annum.
Imagine what could happen if they knew what we have to offer. Just tapping into this tiny part of the market, the local economy would start to thrive.
So how could we enhance our heritage?
The Roman Chariot Track is very unique and its restoration is paramount. This, along with creating a living village experience with Roman Britain and the Iceni Tribe, would make Colchester an educational destination during the off peak seasons.
We also need to exploit the Witchfinder General – Mathew Hopkins’ infamy with Colchester Castle. York Dungeons is success with Dick Turpin shows there is potential locally. A purpose built experience could put Colchester on the leaflet with one of the most visited attractions in London, the London Dungeons.
A purpose built visitor centre in the same vein as the Jorvik Centre in York would be able to showcase our heritage from the Parliamentarians vs Roundheads during the English Civil War, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Humpty Dumpty, to the history of the British Army in the Town.
Imagine thinking even bigger, Colchester could be a destination instead of just a day trip with Constable Country on our doorstep.
The current council are starting to do a great job in lighting up our heritage, however that light needs to be shone brightly outwards to attract more visitors to our historic town.
So what must be done?
The job of promoting Colchester is simple and is not the problem. Any experienced Tourism specialist will do a great job with the correct support, providing there is no local political interference.
However, let us not be naïve with our ‘Field of Dreams’ ethos. The infrastructure needs to be in place so all visitors can have a positive experience. This is where Colchester Borough Council should focus.
The Park and Ride is actually perfect for local inbound visitors, however coach parties would need consideration without putting too much stress on local routes. (If only we had the old Bus Station)
So in summary we have something called ‘Potential’ which is nothing if we not do anything with it.
Scott Everest works as Special Projects Manager for a European based Hotel Group. His experience includes working for Pontins Holidays, CentreParcs, Disneyland Paris and Travelodge in various senior management positions across the UK. He has also attended committee meetings and briefings for the 2012 Olympic committee, and Goverment Department for Culture and Sport for hospitality representing the budget hotel chains. He has also consulted for Norfolk County Council and Blackpool Fylde Council in aspects of Leisure and inbound Tourism.