A staggering £1.2 billion – that is the amount of cash tourists spend in Sheffield every year and, as the countdown to the annual World Snooker Championship continues, it is hoped that figure will rise even more.
Wendy Ulyett, Welcome to Sheffield’s tourism manager, said the city attracted 17.2 million visitors per year, with more than two million of those staying overnight.
The figures, compiled by tourism research company Global Tourism Solutions on behalf of Sheffield Council, come despite the closure of the council’s Surrey Street tourist office and with a further boost expected later this month when the Crucible Theatre plays host to the top 32 snooker players for 17 days.
Ms Ulyett said: “For us, the snooker is very much about making sure that visitors coming in get the chance to explore the city.
“It’s a fantastic global event but we need to make sure visitors know they are in a city with plenty going on and that has got much easier over the years because of channels such as social media which have opened up the opportunity to tell more people about the city and its history.”
The city’s close proximity to the Peak District, theatres and sporting offering has also led to Sheffield becoming more of a destination for a city break, Ms Ulyett added.
She said: “More than two million of the 17.2 million visitors are staying overnight and they are more valuable because they tend to spend more but, that said, the day visitors can turn into return visitors.
“When you look at occupancy levels across the hotels, they generally peak at between 75 and 85 per cent occupancy and if you look at rates such as booking.com it would suggest people are coming to Sheffield for a weekend.
“There are some weekends where it’s very difficult to get a room in the city. Airbnbs are filling up at weekends as well now.”
Ms Ulyett highlighted the ongoing Life in Drawing Da Vinci exhibition at the Millennium Gallery as well as artist Phlegm’s show at the Eye Witness Works as draws for visitors and tourists.
She added: “We don’t compare to Leeds and York because when you look at York, their offering is very much around Viking heritage but our industrial heritage is very important in terms of what the experience we offer looks like.
“We have started to see warehouses that were cutlery works now being used as restaurants and bars and that’s something you don’t see a lot of.
“The heritage of the city is what’s led Sheffield to be what it is today.”
Sheffield is also seeing the number of younger visitors rise, which Ms Ulyett said was down to the increasing number of students in the city.
The Surrey Street tourist office closed last year and Welcome to Sheffield, the council’s tourism arm, states on its website that it cannot offer a ‘tourist information service or deal with individual requests for visitor information’.
But Ms Ulyett said that changes in the way tourists find out information had meant the closure had not had a negative impact on tourism in Sheffield.
She added: “If I went back 10 years staff were inundated with telephone calls and emails and the decision to close the office was made purely on the basis that people have changed how they get information.
“People are looking prior to when they get here and what people are saying is they are looking online first at sites such as Tripadvisor rather than waiting until they get here.
“Most of our activity is done outside of Sheffield so people who live here won’t see a lot of what we do but we have got a great team in the city too and that includes staff at the railway station and taxi drivers.”
‘We could do even more to promote our city to the world’
Heritage campaigner Joy Bullivant said Sheffield could do even more to promote events and its heritage in order to attract more visitors to the city.
She said: “I am kind of worried that we are losing jobs – not just in tourism either because there is a knock-on effect from tourism.
“We have got great festivals such as DocFest but we don’t seem to advertise what is going on.
“We don't seem to tell people who come for the snooker what else there is and that they could come back for a weekend.”
Ms Bullivant, who is a member of Joined Up Heritage, also called for the city to make more of its heritage to attract even more visitors and tourists.
She said “When you think of the great theatres, great sport, great live music and really good historic pubs, you get a really nice weekend and it wouldn’t cost that much either.
“Even something as simple as putting a leaflet on every seat at the snooker would make a difference – it’s not rocket science.”