Declining tourism in Stratford?

A worrying article on the BBC News website today stating that Shakespearience is going in to recievership due to a drop in tourism (Tourist drop affects attraction – BBC News).

In early 2001 during the height of the foot and mouth crisis Tony Blair and the Labour government had to struggle hard to help tourism after some badly worded speeches, and graphic images of burning carcasses, had convinced many overseas visitors that the British countryside was “closed” (The three billion dollar ‘boycott’ – BBC News archives).  That summer Stratford seemed quiet as many overseas and even UK visitors stayed away.

I recall being worried then that as the new millennium began the future of Stratford-upon-Avon as a “world renown tourist destination” was not looking good, and the initial proposals of World Class Stratford did nothing to quell those fears.

Now it seems my concerns were have come true.  The very public closure of the theatre has created the impression that the town itself is closed.  Even the opening of The Courthouse Theatre has not been handled well, the building itself hidden behind the (now closed) The Other Place.  The redevelopment of Bancroft Gardens, in conjunction with the theatre itself, and high profile debates such as the (now cancelled) proposed new footbridge across the Avon have created a global impression that Stratford is “closed for refurbishment” with work taking several years to complete meaning that even year on year visitors (such as myself, return home each year as an ex-pat to see friends and family) get the impression that there is no clear direction for the change, just a whole lot of mud and construction. The terrible flooding of July 2007, and World Class Stratford’s failed ‘ferris wheel’ and ‘footbridge’ projects have done nothing to help Stratford rebuild itself from what is now becoming a decade long lack of clear direction and management.

I hope that “Shakespearience” can pull through these difficulties, and that either fresh investment can be found, or that the site is rapidly taken over and repurposed by new owners.  The waterside location (formerly The Stratford Cinema and The Shakespeare Experience) has always seemed to struggle with a lack of presence not seen in the “Shakespeare properties” or Falstaff’s on Sheep Street, so hopefully this goes some way to explain the current unfortunate events.  However, a part of me sighs and wonders if this is just a continuation of the existing problems, and that Stratford-upon-Avon, its council, and its townspeople will need to work hard to re-establish the historic market town, and birthplace of the world’s most famous playwrite on the world stage.

As my wife said, wouldn’t it be nice for once to see an article about Stratford that reads like this article about Alexandria, Virginia in the Baltimore Sun.

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