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Stratford Upon Avon

Shakespeare Country's Phil Hackett predicts a boom in tourism.  Mar 31, 2009

Is William Shakespeare about to come to the rescue of the country's economy?

Or as the bard himself might have put it; is our winter of discontent about to be made bright summer by the tourism industry?

That's certainly the view in Shakespeare's home town.

The season is barely underway but already Stratford Upon Avon is busy with tourists.

Our worsening economy and weakening pound has led many analysts to predict a bumper year for Britain's tourist industry.

Phil Hackett, the Chief Executive of the evocatively named Shakespeare Country goes even further.

"We think it could be our best year ever," he told me when Working Lunch visited the town.

Weak pound is big business

"We're expecting more people in the UK to holiday at home this year rather than go abroad, plus the weakness of the pound against the euro and the dollar should boost the number of overseas visitors too."

But will the tourists come?

The Brits I spoke to among the crowds strolling down the main street were convinced it would be a good year.

But the Americans weren't so sure, Evelyn Sexton and Shelley Hickman , visiting from Tennesee were loving every minute of their UK trip.

"We're having a fantastic time. The buildings here are lovely, and there's so much history."

"But things are tough back home. The strength of the dollar has made it easier for us, but I still think a lot of people are going to be reluctant to spend all that money to come to Britain."

Relying on tourism

So is it a good idea to be putting so much emphasis on tourism?

After all, many of the jobs it supplies are low paid, seasonal and as the Americans illustrate, it's vulnerable to problems in the home economies of the people you're hoping to persuade to visit.

It's no coincidence that two of the areas with some of the lowest GDP in the UK are Cumbria and Cornwall, where the economy is heavily reliant on tourism.

Roger Allonby is the man spreading the tourism gospel in Shakespeare Country. He's Head of Tourism for the area's regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands.

"Any economy needs lots of elements to it, and tourism is a really important industry to have," he said.

Roger says the industry may be worth as much as £1bn to the region's economy.

"But what's often not considered is that many people in the area will work in tourism at some point in their careers, often as students for example. And they'll pick up all the kind of service skills that are so important in the modern economy."

Building the economy

Mind you, anyone looking for the peace and olde worlde tranquillity right now might not find it in Stratford.

Large parts of the town, including the usually relaxing green spaces by the River Avon, have been turned into a building site.

That's because £100m is being poured into Stratford to refurbish everything from the Royal Shakespeare Company's centre to the house reputed to be the birthplace of the great man himself.

"We're in a worldwide competition these days to win customers," explained Phil Hackett.

"Tourism is opening up everywhere, and even though Shakespeare is a world-wide icon, we have to make sure that our facilities here are up to date so that we can compete."

It seems to be working. Roger Allonby says early reports show that visitor attractions across the West Midlands are up 10 to 15 percent on last year - figures that few other industries could boast.

That's not difficult to believe when you look at the hordes thronging Stratford Upon Avon this spring.

Stand in the street and you'll see thousands of people speaking dozens of languages, all taking snapshots of the black and white Tudor buildings, and all looking for somewhere to spend their tourist money.

Shakespeare wrote that "all the world's a stage", back in his hometown they know that all the world's a potential market too.

Shakespeare Country's Phil Hackett predicts a boom in tourism.
Stratford Upon Avon / Image via

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