INCREASING numbers of shoppers, tourists and business trips led to the highest hotel occupancy levels in Leeds in seven years in the run up to Christmas, with visitors spending more than £26 million in the city.
The figures, released by marketing agency Leeds and Partners, show the city bucked the national trend with a bumper Christmas period, with significant increases in hotel revenue and city centre footfall.
Hotel occupancy rates peaked at 88 per cent in November, eight per cent higher than any other month in 2014, and room rates were also at a yearly high, contributing further to the city economy, the agency said.
Hoteliers said an increase in business clients, tourists, visitors to the First Direct Arena, which opened in July 2013, and the Trinity Leeds shopping centre, which opened five months earlier, were bearing fruit.
Bewleys Hotel in the city centre reported “consecutive record months” in the run up to Christmas, and while in previous years in has closed for up to ten days over Christmas itself, this year it only shut for two nights.
“The city is so different now, it was worth a punt staying open,” general manager Michael Sheldon said. “When the arena and Trinity opened, we thought it would take a year or so to see the full effects, and sure enough last year we were seeing results. Leeds is going from strength to strength and it will only get better when the Victoria Gate development opens next year.”
Gordon Jackson, chair of Leeds Hotels and Venues Association, said it believed “very high” occupancies were most significantly due to an uplift in corporate sector bookings, conferences, day events and accommodation.
City centre footfall over the last weekend of November was up 20 per cent on 2013, and footfall camera recorded well over 4.5 million in a three week period from November 24, an increase of three per cent on the previous year. This is in contrast to national trends, which saw an average decline of nearly two per cent.
The Christmas period saw a concerted effort to drive tourism in the city, with a marketing campaign, ran by Leeds and Partners and Leeds City Council, to showcase the scale of the seasonal offer, including Christmas shopping, theatre breaks and cultural attractions. The Magical Leeds campaign saw visits to the Visit Leeds tourism website up 36 per cent, and was supported by VisitEngland’s Growing Tourism Locally campaign alongside private sector partners, including Trinity Leeds, Bewleys Hotel Leeds, Northern Ballet, The Light and West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Leeds Council’s deputy executive member for transport and the economy, Coun Gerry Harper said the campaign had been “fundamental” in driving a successful Christmas period for the city.
He said: “This was the first year that the city came together with a joined up and highly engaging proposition. As a result, the city’s offer has been clear to residents and visitors alike, with the campaign featuring nationally and locally.”
Arena drives visitors to city
In November and December, music fans from 32 countries attended events at the First Direct Arena, each spending valuable tourist pounds in the city.
Before Christmas, big name acts included Kasabian, The Who. Brian Adams and Micheal Buble. When Pearl Jam played the Arena in July 2014, every hotel room in the city booked out, a feat that has come close to repeating several times since.
The arena’s director for sales and marketing, Tony Watson, said: “People are coming to Leeds as a destination, and we know from our friends in the hotel industry that the bigger the name, the further people will come to see them.”