Seaside resorts were created to cater for industrialization in the late 19th century railway era. Back then, they were frequented by wealthy visitors. In the years that followed the depression, they renewed their appeal and attracted a lot of visitors until the Second World War when most were closed.
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They began to thrive again in the 1950s and were doing well until the 1970s (English Tourism Council 2001). The decline of the seaside towns began in the mid 1970s (Kennell 2011). In 1974, the world experienced the first international oil crisis. Domestic tourism fell and remained depressed until the late 1980s.
The reported numbers of English seaside tourisists showed a decrease from 32 million to 22 million staying visits and from 193 million to 104 million nights stays (Tourism insights info n. d.). In the 1980s, day visitors to seaside resorts increased tremendously. Most of this tourism market did not spend a lot, it did not contribute to accommodation spending, and it created car congestion eroding the quality of the environment and providing disincentives to better spending customers. (Middleton 2001).
A principal seaside town is one that has a population of more than 10,000 people and one where seaside tourism is a significant factor in the economy (Beatty & Fothergill 2003). These seaside resorts share characteristics that are different from other towns. They have tourist infrastructure like promenades, piers and recreation parks. They also have holiday accommodation like beach houses and caravan sites.
Tourism products being offered nowadays include coach tours and tea dances for the elderly (Beatty, Fothergill & Wilson 2008). Seaside towns evoke fond memories of playing at the beach, holidays spent in the sun with family and this has largely influenced the decision to reinvent these towns. Britain’s struggling seaside resorts are being turned into creative industries by injecting arts and culture into their attractions (Carter 2008).
There has been a lot of talk about the impending death of seaside towns but many feel that this is exaggerated. The seaside economy accounts for 22% of British domestic tourism expenditure (Economic Development & Regeneration n. d.). The market share of England’s seaside resorts from domestic and international tourists is around 13% (Middleton 2001). These figures show that domestic tourism is still a substantial contributor to the economy but many feel that if something is not done to improve it, it may decline further.
Seaside towns may soon lose the few tourists that they currently attract. Seaside towns are usually low wage economies and they have an above average proportion of pensioner households (Beatty et al. 2008). To fully understand the danger faced by seaside towns, this paper focuses on one of the most well known seaside towns, Margate. This paper outlines and evaluates the opportunities and challenges facing Margate compared to Dover, another seaside town.
It lists the characteristics of the tourism product offered, how it is marketed and branded and its contribution to local employment. It furthers explains the existing sources of investment and finance for tourism, the adequacy and effectiveness of tourism policy and planning framework, the extent of local involvement including benefits to the community and finally, environment and sustainability issues faced in the process.
Margate is in the district of Thanet in East Kent. Margate together with Broadstairs and Ramsgate were classified as Thanet to provide a more meaningful unit (Dreamland Magnate 2011). Margate is adjacent to the harbor and at the centre of an extensive conservation area. It is bounded on the east by Hawley Street and on the west by Marine drive (Visit Thanet n. d.).
It lies east-Northeast of maidstone and on the coast along the North Foreland and contains the areas of Cliftonville, Garlinge, Palm bay and Westbrook. Dover, on the other hand, is located by the harbor and has a busy passenger ferry terminal (Dover District Council n. d.), a waterfront panorama, views of Dover castle, and a stylish marina among other attractions (Dover Town Council n. d.; Dover Museum n. d.). Margate is one of the first three of England’s seaside resorts.
It was initially served by coaches then steamers but the development of the Sand railway station made it grow. In 1830, it was receiving more than a hundred thousand visitors annually and by 1960, it had increased to 32 million visitors. At the height of its development, Margate had a lot of investors.
There was a ‘winter gardens’ built where concerts would be held, two large cinemas and a scenic railway (Middleton 2001). Families would go there to enjoy the bathing pools, parks and pavilions. The economy of Margate was wholly dependent on tourism during those times and it has been that way even in recent times.
Margate’s dependence on tourism has made it one of the worst hit by the decline in seaside tourism in Britain. There are many challenges facing this seaside town today. These include declining competitiveness, poor image, dilapidated infrastructure, urban degradation, pockets of antisocial behaviour, a limited demography and unreliable weather (Elborough 2010).
The seafront which is Margate’s main attraction has become detached from the town due to the road that lies between the two. There are therefore not many focal points of the sea front from the town.
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Margate, like other seaside resorts, has been unable to compete successfully with other holiday destinations. There has been a rise in package holidays and low cost airfares making foreign travel more accessible and affordable and creating fierce competition for seaside towns (Elborough 2010). Margate’s lack of a unique and central attraction has contributed to the decline in competition. Dover, also situated in Kent, possesses the Dover boat which is an archeological find that is one of a kind (Dover museum n. d.).
It is also home to the famous white cliffs. These assets in Dover attract many tourists. Other new competitors are big cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle. These competitors lost their 19th century economic base and are now putting heavy investments in attractions. They offer conference centers, new hotels and year round entertainment (Middleton 2001). These competitors are attractive destination spots for those who wish to holiday without having to travel to the seaside.
One of the main challenges being faced by Margate is dilapidated infrastructure. Margate is an area of mainly late 18th and early 19th century buildings of modest scale and architecture (British Resort Association 2011). These structures are not all currently in use and have been boarded up for quite a long time.
Visitors wishing to spend the night find it difficult as accommodations are not of good quality. A decline in business and lack of funds has made it impossible for the owners to renovate these buildings. The rest of the town’s infrastructure is not well maintained. The roads to the seafront are unattractive. Like Dover, Margate has put a strain on transport infrastructure.
Urban degradation is a challenge that has deprived Margate of income from tourism. For a long time small businesses and residents have been moving out and they have refrained from making investments in the area. Hotels and guest houses making little profits from tourists decided to convert their buildings into cheap houses.
This has made the seaside a destination for the unemployed, single parents and other welfare claimants. It is for this reason that the last decades have seen an establishment of seaside towns as areas of economic and social depravation just like inner city areas used to be before action was taken (Middleton 2001). Repairing bad roads and broken down buildings would be easily done but the problem of people is going to be very difficult to get rid of.
Margate’s poor image has not helped in reviving Margate as a tourist destination. Many think of Margate as tired, out of date and down-market. It is also perceived as lacking in modern cultural and artistic activities (Communities and local governments 2010). Margate, like Dover, has seen an increase in crime and antisocial behaviour. There are increasing reports of burglary and graffiti in the town’s streets. This has been credited to the type of people that are now living in these seaside towns. The presence of asylum seekers in prime visitor areas is negatively affecting efforts made to market the seaside towns (Middleton 2001).
There are various factors that have led to the decline of seaside towns. Disproportionate levels of joblessness, lower wages and low level of skills have led potential workers to move away in search of better opportunities. When tourism began to decline, many moved away to seek jobs in bigger towns. There is now no definite figure of the level of employment. Employment that results from tourism in seaside towns is difficult to quantify.
The jobs supported by these towns are spread across many sectors like hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and other attractions. These sectors are frequented by local residents and tourists and this makes it hard to know what percentage is as a result of tourism only (Aitch 2002). Even with these difficulties research has been done to find out how tourism affects local employment. Thanet, Margate’s district was estimated to have only 3-4000 jobs in the seaside tourist industry.
Unfavourable weather is a challenge for seaside towns. Most of their attractions rely on sunny weather. During the summer months the economy of Margate peaks, employment is high and the tourists flock into the seaside town. Come winter and the economy takes a dive as tourists attractions present cannot be visited in bad weather (Save Dreamland Campaign n. d.).
There is not much that can be done to change the weather but a lot can be done to change the demography of Margate. It is one of the challenges of Margate to diversify the demography from one of an aging and transient population to a mixture of a young, old and permanent population.
There are a few measures that can be taken to improve Margate as a tourist destination. Some have been implemented but there is still a long way left to go. Towns that are struggling can always borrow a few methods from thriving towns. The characteristics of thriving seaside towns are: – a strong local leadership, dynamic businesses and presence of a central economic and commercial activity.
Some of the success of these seaside towns will be because of the decline of other sectors. Luck is on the towns’ side as costs of overseas travel increased lately. Overseas trips fell by 15% in 2009 (Elborough 2010). People did not cease to holiday but they changed their destination to the seaside towns.
Local authorities can be a very valuable asset in the regeneration of seaside towns. Many feel that traditional local authorities are incapable of handling regeneration plans proposed for seaside resorts. Therefore, a strong local leadership in Margate would be beneficial in several ways.
It would bring expenditure from external sources, generate employment, boost economic growth and reinforce local identity and heritage (Save Dreamland Campaign n. d.). Investment in seaside towns is also of interest to local authorities as it would bring crime rate and unemployment down. The local authority can work with other authorities to achieve better results. National, regional and local collaboration and partnerships are very slow processes, however.
They make immense time demands on the same individuals at local level, who have to service them all. But they do offer a framework for support and a route to funding that is new, and which has not yet been tried for the resorts. Effective collaboration will depend more on initiative and determination by local partnership (bottom-up) than collaborative initiatives (top-down) (Middleton 2001).
Policies laid out by the government will be of great help to seaside towns. Since these towns are very different from each other, all policies cannot apply to all towns. The government has therefore given Councils more powers to address their own problems locally. The regional development agencies also provide them with support to promote economic growth (Communities 2010).
In order to improve housing quality, they have introduced new housing rules for councils for houses in multiple occupations. Additional measures have been put in place regarding holiday site caravan licensing and the other use of ‘meanwhile’ leases to bring derelict properties back to use (Communities 2010).
Most of the projects required to revive these seaside towns require a lot of funds. Sources of investment and finance for tourism come from public and private investors like micro businesses. It is now common place that public/private sector partnerships are an integral part of the process for achieving any comprehensive urban regeneration schemes (English Tourism Council 2001).
To show their commitment to saving seaside towns, organizations make donations to individual towns. The department for culture, media and sport announced a funding program that awarded £12 million to Dover among other seaside towns (Kennell 2011). Margate also received £25 million of public funding for the construction of a contemporary art centre which is planned to be the centerpiece of the cultural regeneration of the most important of the Kentish seaside towns (Kennell 2011).
More funds were also granted towards the development of Margate. The Heritage Lottery Fund granted £3 millions to what is known as the Dreamland Margate project. This project is designed to restore dreamland Margate to its former glory. Dreamland was opened in 1920 and is home to the oldest operating rollercoaster in the country.
In January 2003, the park was closed for development to take place (Save dreamland). Once it has been renovated, dreamland will be one of UKs main attraction. It will be the world’s first amusement park of historic rides. In addition, it is designed to have classic side shows, cafés, restaurants, special events, festivals and gardens (Christmas events 2011). Recently the scenic railway roller coaster was listed and reopened bringing many thrill seekers to Margate (Aitch 2002).
Other main attractions of Margate will be Dreamland cinema and George Sanger’s menagerie cages. Dreamland will generate at least 350,000 annual visits (Dreamland Magnate 2011). A central attraction that is unique to a town has also helped Dover grow. The Dover museum is one of the oldest museums (Dover museum n. d.).
A shift from one dominant industry will also benefit Margate. Instead of being a solely holiday destination, it should focus on getting tourists all year round. New forms of tourism in other seaside towns have been explored including conference/business tourism, educational tourism, and cultural tourism (Kennell 2011).
Others will include recreation, shopping, sports, trade fairs, festivals and establishment of second homes in the area. Many of these extra markets will rhyme well with local residents’ own interests and will improve their quality of life (Middleton 2011). Through good funding, Margate will have an exhibition space, a community room, performance area, screenings, special events and a sensory garden (Dreamland Magnate 2011).
The environment is a major concern in the regeneration of towns. The media has been credited with bringing the issues faced by seaside resorts to the forefront. The media is a good tool that can be used to revive tourism. Issues of environment and sustainability can successfully be covered by the media.
Air travel carries a large carbon footprint and visiting the seaside instead of international destinations can be portrayed as good for the environment (Middleton 2001).There is also a move to use green energy like wind and waves. Growth in domestic tourism is a boost to the economy of Britain and this would appeal to patriots.
Margate’s leaders are also taking measures to ensure that Margate grows technologically and that it becomes more secure. To ensure that more people settle in this region, the town has to have these technological amenities and has to be free of crime. Online and digital public services are highly supported as well as neighbourhood policing (Communities 2010). The development in technology will also attract younger people to settle in this region. Currently the demography consists of ageing and transient populations (Communities 2010).
With all these measures taken, many are asking if development will be sustainable. There are fears that regeneration may focus on high profile developments or mega events which would not encourage community involvement or achieve desired social outcomes (Kennell 2011). Kenell (2011) further explains that Margate has been a success by having made use of their unique cultural heritage and having demonstrated that the former industrial sites of the tourism industry play a role in the likelihood of public approval.
The tourism industry is very important to the British economy. This is because it contributes in a big way to the income of the country. As such, it is in every Briton’s interests to protect this precious asset and to take it back to the position that it held in the 70s (Dines 2009).
Domestic tourism is good for the environment in the sense that it creates employment and reduces crime. There are national organizations in place to provide advice and information on how one can contribute to tourism (West of England Tourism Development Plan n. d.).
One of the greatest problems facing majority of the declining towns is that they are heavily reliant on a single industry. Towns that have historically existed due to one industry have ceased to exist with the death of that industry. Margate is one good example that has proven the importance of investing in different industries or diverse sources of income within the same industry.
A partnership between the community and the government has led to regeneration of seaside towns. The local authorities and other nonprofit organizations have risen to the challenge and are on the track of making Margate a great tourist destination (Office for National Statistics 2011). To cater for the younger generation, they have rebuilt roller coasters and have improved technological services in the towns.
The seaside holiday is a distinctly English tradition that was exported to the rest of the world (Elborough 2010). Most seaside towns attract primarily local tourists but they should not limit themselves. Some of what Margate, and other towns, has to offer is one of a kind and would be greatly appreciated by foreigners. Aggressive marketing in other countries would bring more income from international markets and continued growth of seaside towns.
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