Sunday, 1 March 2009

Capital of Culture? It's London baby

2008 may have been Liverpool's year - but it wasn't enough to challenge London's monopoly on the tourist industry, or to overshadow Asani the black rhino calf born at Chester Zoo.

Despite two thirds more visitors than usual turning up, Liverpool could only chug in 17 and 19 in the rankings with the Tate Liverpool and Maritime Museum.

Whereas down the road at Chester Zoo it only took a cute baby rhino and a two per cent rise in day trippers to secure the number 11 spot.

That's not bad going, especially when you consider that unlike the two top 20 Liverpool attractions the zoo charges for entry.

The UK's top 10 visitor attractions, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, are all in London.

Perhaps it's reasonable to conclude that geography can't be beaten and the concentration of world class exhibits and architecture London offers makes it a one stop shop for tourists.

Still, it would have been good to see all of Merseyside's museums and galleries queueing up to challenge that stranglehold in '08 year.

The top scoring attraction outside of London is to be found in a former capital of culture city, Glasgow.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum sits at number 11, but also reports that it has lost more than a third of visitors on last year, which makes you wonder what it takes to crack the top 10.

Glasgow gained a much lauded lift from it's 1990 year as the European Capital of Culture, but 18 years on has the magic worn off? Of the 10 Glasgow attractions eight had lost visitors - some to the tune of 30 - 40%.

And while Liverpool's '08 year was widely considered a success, what will it take to maintain the tourist interest in the city and capitalise on it - especially during a recession?

Potentially more worrying for the Wirral's battered and bruised cultural infrastructure the beautiful Lady Lever art gallery in Port Sunlight has clearly felt an adverse impact from Liverpool's year in the spotlight, recording 16% less visitors.

It remains to be seen if the much anticipated new KLM routes will bring extra tourists to the city from Asia, Africa and he Americas, via Amsterdam.

If thousands of first time visitors do arrive in Liverpool then we need to make sure that we're making the most of the city's cultural institutions.

2008 was a great start to a revolution in arts and tourism investment in Merseyside, and that work continues with the Museum of Liverpool opening in 2010.

But I can't help thinking that the city had a spectacular year - possibly the best year our generation will witness - and even with the massive increase in visitor numbers it has still fallen short of establishing itself beyond argument as a must-visit UK destination.

If this is as good as it gets, then in my opinion it's not good enough.