City of Culture
Come 2040 cities across the UK will be preparing their bids for the 2045 UK City of Culture, while the eighth winner of this quadrennial award will be ramping up for its year in the spotlight throughout 2041.
Liverpool’s success as the European Capital of Culture in 2008 prompted the creation of the UK City of Culture, for which Derry/Londonderry took the inaugural honour in 2013. The effects of this accolade have been transformative: between 2011 and 2017, Derry’s overnight hotel occupancy increased by 7%. Day visitors to Liverpool increased by 15% between 2006 to 2012 and by the end of its year as European Capital of Culture, over 50% of local cultural sector peers believed Liverpool had proved itself ‘a world class city’. In 2017, Hull’s year as UK City of Culture, the city welcomed an estimated 1.3 million more visitors than in 2013, when it submitted its bid. Early indications also suggest that Hull’s turn in 2017 added £300m to the city’s economy, so it is clear that these designations can have a demonstrable effect on tourism.
Figure 1: Three-year average of trips made to Liverpool around its year as European Capital of Culture, 2008
Source: Visit Britain
While the short to mid-term effects are well documented, the longer-term impacts are a little harder to quantify. With the European Commission barring UK cities from bids for the European title from 2017, the home-grown competition becomes that much more important for cities striving to reap the rewards that a year under the cultural spotlight has to offer.
Although direct links are hard to draw, it does appear that some cities are able to capitalise on their year of culture to increase their tourism long-term. However, the change most likely to last is a more positive image of a city. As we argue elsewhere, culture is increasingly being recognised as a driver of economic growth through a variety of channels including the development of creative industries and tourism, as well as individual events and festivals. So the bidding process seems likely to become more competitive and professional over the next 20 years. One of the key influences on a bid’s success is likely to be the thought given to planning the legacy of the designation, rather than simply the designation itself.
Media coverage influences and reflects the public opinion of a city, and it appears that it is only through a positive change in media coverage, that a city can hope to claim any longer-term benefits of the City of Culture award. So, will Derry/Londonderry (2013), Hull (2017) and Coventry’s (2021) years as UK City of Culture be relevant in 2040, as the eighth city steps forward to take their turn? Only if they keep the media on side.