Tourism is now the biggest income earner for Greater Manchester – worth a colossal £7.9 billion a year to the city region’s economy and supporting 94,000 jobs.

This puts tourism in the number one spot – worth more than other key sectors like financial and professional services, life sciences and creative, digital and technology.

And the bonanza is set to get even bigger.

Marketing Manchester, the organisation which promotes the city region on the national and international stage, has been awarded £1million from the Discover England Fund to increase the number of visitors coming through Manchester Airport by creating itineraries that showcase the city and excursions that open up the north of England.

The importance of tourism and the closely related hospitality industry to the region’s economic wellbeing was stressed at the second annual Greater Manchester Tourism Conference at the Pavilion at the Emirates Old Trafford.

The growth of the industry – now catering for 119 million visitors a year, 11million of whom stay for at least one night – has been astonishing since the grim 1970s and early 1980s when Manchester’s traditional textile and engineering industries were in a state of collapse and the city beset by political turmoil.

Marketing Manchester’s managing director Sheona Southern told the sold-out audience of tourism and hospitality professionals: “Greater Manchester’s tourism sector is one of extraordinary success which is often overlooked and taken for granted when people talk positively about how the city is moving forward and developing.

“The sector grew and supported economic recovery in Greater Manchester after the 2008 recession and it is composed predominantly of SMEs [small and medium enterprises] that make the region such an interesting and diverse place to visit, invest, meet and study.

“Despite challenges this year, the sector has bounced back with some great successes. Thanks to Manchester Airport’s growth and continued success over the past five years, international visitors reached 1.4 million in 2016, which already exceeds the target set in the 2020 Tourism Strategy. And at a wider regional level there has also been a seven per cent increase in the number of international visitors across the north west in the last year.

“Business tourism, specifically the conference and events sub-sector, is now worth £810 million and supports 21,900 jobs. So far this year Marketing Manchester and its partners have won 20 conferences which will bring 11,635 delegates and £21.7 million to the region over the coming years. The value of these visitors, not just in monetary terms but also in terms of profile and investment opportunities, cannot be overestimated.”

The success of Manchester Central, scene of one of the big two’s party gatherings every year bar one for more than a decade – most recently the Conservatives – is testament to the vision deployed in regenerating the former derelict railway station.

Burgeoning hotel provision, two-hour trains to London departing every 20 minutes and, crucially, the continuing growth of Manchester Airport, now connecting to more than 200 destinations worldwide, have been major contributors to tourism growth, not to mention the massive following for Manchester United and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

The Olympic bids and the successful staging of the 2002 Commonwealth Games was instrumental in showcasing the ‘new’ Manchester on the international stage.

Said Sheona: “Since the Arena attack in May, it has, of course, been a difficult period for the sector, but the tourism community showed their true Mancunian grit and weathered the incident much better than EU counterparts.

“Manchester’s average hotel occupancy rate for the first half of 2017 was exceeding last year’s record growth and performing ahead of all other northern destinations as well as the UK average.

“Post-attack occupancy rates and values struggled – however the latest August figures show signs of recovery and is tracking in line with 2016 even with increased hotel supply compared to twelve months ago, meaning that demand is actually higher than last year.”

The annual UK growth forecast for tourism is expected to be 3.8 per cent every year up to 2025 whilst Greater Manchester is forecast to grow by five per cent per annum. If the region maintains that level of growth, the tourism sector will exceed its 2020 target value of £8.8 billion a year ahead of schedule.

The overall ambition for Greater Manchester is for Manchester to be a top 20 global city by 2035.

What's on your mind?