Last week’s Fire and Light event at The Kelpies could signal the start of an unprecedented year for tourism in the Falkirk area.
The crowds who gathered at the Helix on Friday evening to witness the spectacle will be nothing compared to the potential numbers of tourists the attraction, which now has its visitor centre up and running, could draw in throughout the coming months.
And it’s not just the pulling power of those two giant horse’s heads which is giving people a real sense of optimism for 2016.
As well as the Helix and its Kelpies and, of course, the ever-popular Falkirk Wheel, the area’s strengths include historic and World Heritage-recognised sites, strong retail opportunities in the town centre and Central Retail Park, a large and varied choice in affordable accommodation and a great central location with road and rail links to both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In February last year Falkirk Council agreed a five-year plan, Tourism Falkirk 2020, aimed at turning the district into one of Scotland’s must-visit destinations.
The plan, which was welcomed by Councillor Adrian Mahoney, spokesperson for culture, leisure and tourism, seeks to increase annual visitor expenditure in the area by 20 per cent – to over £97 million – and produce a 20 per cent rise in overnight stays to over three quarters of a million by 2020.
Councillor Mahoney said: “We have some fantastic attractions across the Falkirk Council area and I wish them all great success in 2016. The last few years has seen terrific growth in local tourism, which is a welcome trend I hope will continue.
“However, the industry will face challenges, particularly in terms of its future support from the public sector. I’m sure we’ll try to do all we can to help, but it will be tough, given the ongoing cuts we’ve been experiencing.”
The Tourism Falkirk 2020 plan aims to make Falkirk a destination of first choice with high quality, value for money and world-class attractions. It was developed by Falkirk Council and its partners in conjunction with local tourism businesses, national stakeholders and local communities.
Last year the council established a Tourism Business Forum to help monitor the delivery of the ambitious proposals.
The new www.visitfalkirk.com website was also set up last year and now receives over 4000 visits per month.
Things were already looking good in 2015 before the Helix visitor centre was even built with a mid-year report on Falkirk tourism from Visit Scotland spanning April to September showing continued growth, with footfall at the Visitor Information Centre at the Falkirk Wheel up by 11 per cent.
The Loop pilot bus scheme to support tourism in the Falkirk area carried a total of 30,460 passengers and around 40 per cent of users were from outside the Falkirk area – some from as far afield as Australia and the USA.
A series of tourism networking meetings are planned throughout the year and Falkirk’s tourism partners will meet later this month, allowing representatives from Falkirk Council, the area’s main tourist attractions, hotels and other organisations to develop the 2020 strategy and further the partnership working.