Has Bournemouth got what it takes to be a city?

Large towns and small cities these days are fairly indistinguishable from one another. They both have high streets, shopping complexes, parks full of bustling people and other facilities we have come to expect from densely populated areas.

But with the results of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee competition, in which towns make their bid to be bestowed with the title of ‘city’, being announced later this year, Bournemouth could soon find itself making the transition.

The title of ‘city’ is purely honorific, with no extra funding, grants or government assistance attached to it. But aside from an obvious boom in the sign making business, are there other more subtle ways in which the town of Bournemouth could benefit from becoming ‘The City of Bournemouth’?

“It’s all about signalling that we are ready to take the next step in the evolutionary process,” said Finn Morgan, corporate policy and strategy officer at Bournemouth council. “We’re using it as a mechanism to signal the towns intent, we will be able to market ourselves as a city, and when people see a city they think business and enterprise.”

From the council’s point of view, the bid has the potential to show that Bournemouth is growing, and to craft its image into something that might be more appealing to potential investors and businesses. However Nigel Hedges, president of the Bournemouth Chamber of Trade and Commerce, was sceptical about the possible effects the bid might have. He said: “I don’t think it will change much, but it will certainly give us the kudos that being a city brings with it.”

But one need only look at past examples of towns granted city status to see that this kudos, while seemingly trivial, could have the ability to affect huge changes in Bournemouth’s economy.

According to the Bournemouth Echo, Newport, among one of the winners in a similar competition for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, has claimed that the title of ‘city’ has attracted a lot of high profile employers to the area, and the extra jobs that these employers bring with them has assisted with economic regeneration. Sunderland, which became a city in 1992, has declared a similar rise in prosperity since it was bestowed with the honour.

In struggling economic times for most people, more jobs would certainly be a welcome improvement for Bournemouth residents, but business isn’t the only thing that could benefit. While the title of ‘city’ itself doesn’t bring any direct extra funding, according to councillor Phillip Stanley-Watts it could open doors to “procure more grant funding for tourism,” through grants both from the EU and the UK government.

Tourism is a huge part of Bournemouth’s economy, being worth around £425m in 2010 and employing about 11,000 people, according to the Bournemouth tourism website. But greater investment could certainly see these figures improve, and Mr Stanley-Watts added: “we will be pursuing ways in which Bournemouth could secure more funding.”

Aside from the perks that more money could bring to Bournemouth, city status has the potential to attract even more tourists to the UK’s prime seaside resort. But to capitalise on this potential, Bournemouth as a city would have to change the way it markets itself. “It will have an impact on how we present ourselves as a destination,” said Jon Weaver, a representative from Bournemouth’s tourism board. He added that Bournemouth could be “presented in such a way that people don’t think it’s somewhere like Birmingham, but we’ll aim to present ourselves as somewhere a bit more like Chichester”.

So rather than go for the all out big city approach, it seems likely that the tourism board will use city status to supplement Bournemouth’s already quite unique strengths as a tourist destination. This could also have an effect on international tourism, claimed another of Bournemouth’s councillors Mark Battistini. He said that if Bournemouth were to become a city “European wise it just seems more attractive than a town”.

So it is very possible that Bournemouth could begin to make a name for itself as a prime seaside resort outside of the confines of the UK, and with some luck become an even more popular holiday destination for international tourists.

Perception is the key concept when it comes to something, at first glance, as simple as adding the word ‘city’ to the Bournemouth welcome signs that line the sides of the road as you are driving into town. While it may not make much difference to the everyday lives of Bournemouth residents, the honorific title appears to carry a lot more weight with potential investors or interested visitors.

Of course, for Bournemouth to enjoy these benefits, it would first have to win the competition. With 25 other entrants including Reading, Colchester and Wrexham, the chances may indeed be slim. It is difficult, even for the experts, to predict exactly what would happen if Bournemouth were to succeed, but the council are prepared to use and exploit that small four lettered word to gain every advantage in what feels like a constantly worsening national economy.

Photo by Graffity

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