Sheffield is missing out on many millions of pounds in tourism revenue, despite having a range of “unique, authentic and independent” cultural attractions that could appeal to national and international visitors.
It has the lowest number of overnight visitors of any of the big cities in the UK, according to a submission to the Arts Council that resulted in a £270,000 grant to raise Sheffield’s cultural tourism profile.
But the report - submitted by Sheffield Theatres on behalf of a consortium including universities, museums, galleries, leisure managers and festival organisers - spells out the ground that needs to be made up.
It says: “The city still has huge untapped tourism potential. While overnight visitor numbers have been increasing since 2011, compared with other core cities Sheffield still ranks the lowest for overnight visitors from the UK.
“In addition, although we have a similar number of visitors to Newcastle/Gateshead, the conversion of visits into spend is poor. Newcastle had only 0.7% more visitors than Sheffield in 2011, but generated over 116% more spend, in effect ‘a missing £113m’.”
The Arts Council funding over three years will be used to improve marketing, promotion and visitor information and to encourage visitors to stay longer. Another ambition is to help festivals to become more sustainable and to grow.
And the value of festivals such as the documentary film festival, DocFest, the Tramlines music festival and the Off The Shelf literary festival is underlined, along with many other attractions.
The report says: “Sheffield has a unique, authentic and independent cultural offer to local, national and international visitors, including award-winning regional theatres, innovative galleries and museums, strong contemporary arts, a rich cultural heritage and a thriving music scene, both contemporary and classical.”
It can also point to the attractive landscaping in the city centre, “a wide range” of eating places, pubs and bars, city centre and suburban hotels “for all budgets” and “stunning parks” and countryside.
Attempts to give Sheffield a higher cultural profile revive a debate that has been running sporadically over many years about whether Sheffield does enough to tell the rest of the world about what it has to offer, and the size of its promotional budget.
The latest efforts come at a time when many festivals and other activities are being hit by council cuts.
However, the Tour de France offers a potential showcase in July, and there have been positives in recent years. Sheffield is the fifth most visited city for business, with conference trade rising by more than £56m over the past two years.
But Heather Croall, director of DocFest, describes Sheffield as “a hidden city.”
She adds: “The cultural scene in Sheffield has a strong bright underbelly and we need to let it shine through and allow people to find it.”