The world loves Leeds! Tourism boom is a £1.6bn moneyspinner

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A huge tourism boom has seen the numbers of visitors to Leeds swell by almost 10 per cent - generating £1.6bn last year alone for the local economy.

New research reveals that the city attracted an extra four per cent of tourists in 2016 compared to 12 months earlier, taking the total visitor numbers flocking to the city soaring beyond 27 million.

Tourists were lured by major sporting events and an explosion of shopping and leisure opportunities, and helped to generate £1.64 billion for the city’s economy, up almost 16 per cent from the previous year. Total numbers have gone up by 9.7 per cent since 2013, when Trinity Leeds opened.

The city also climbed to fifth place in the UK league table of top business conferencing destinations. And it improved its position in the International Convention and Congress Association (ICCA) rankings too, jumping by 149 places in the global league topped by Paris.

The news comes as the submission deadline for Leeds’s European Capital of Culture 2023 bid approaches. Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “Leeds is a city that is constantly pushing boundaries and widening its appeal to visitors as a contemporary and dynamic destination.

“We’re seeing a city evolve through inspirational regeneration with the hosting of world sporting events, including now the 2019 UCI Road World Championships, innovative new shopping centres that are winning global awards and an arts, culture and music scene that is vibrant, diverse and engaging. The bid to be European Capital of Culture 2023 will give the city another huge platform to be showcased on attracting even more visitors from across the world. It’s an incredibly exciting time for Leeds.”

Karen Sewell, business spokeswoman for the Leeds 2023 independent steering group, added: “This is brilliant news for Leeds and a massive endorsement of our growing reputation as a city which has so much to offer visitors from all walks of life. As we move closer to submitting our bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023, our hope is that we can work towards further enhancing our vibrant visitor economy, giving these millions of visitors a chance to explore our city and its communities, and putting Leeds firmly on the map as an eclectic cultural hub.”

The latest tourism numbers come from the STEAM survey, which measures the economic impact of the tourism industry in the UK.

The STEAM report measures data from 2015 to 2016.

During that period, Leeds has hosted major events such as the Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Series in June - where the Brownlee brothers took gold and silver in front of their home crowd - and Light Night, a two- evening arts and light festival in October which attracted record numbers. Leeds has also enjoyed the success of the opening of Victoria Gate last October. Within a few months of opening, it had been named Best Shopping Centre in the World. The centre is home to 17 new brands to Leeds, and for many of them, it is their first venture out of London. The opening of Victoria Gate means that Leeds currently ranks as the third best place to shop in the UK.

The city is also home to a wealth of museums and galleries - including iconic names such as the Henry Moore Institute - and has one of the fastest growing independent food and drink scenes in the UK.

Leisure tourism visits generated an estimated £1.64 billion in 2016. And the tourism industry now supports more than 19,000 full time equivalent jobs, an increase of 3.3 per cent from 2015.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council said: “We know Leeds is a welcoming city but these figures show the wider appeal to visitors coming for a leisure break or staying here on business.

“We have built up a fantastic reputation for hosting world class events that people come from far and wide to enjoy. Tourism like this has a significant impact on the Leeds economy, helping to create and sustain jobs for people who live here.

“And on the back of the recent Lonely Planet accolade which names Leeds as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2017, we hope to build on this with the bid for the European Capital of Culture in 2023, to ensure the city remains one of the most sought after visitor destinations in the UK.”

James Bailey, Victoria Gate’s general manager, added: “These figures demonstrate that Leeds is a compelling tourist destination in its own right, with last year’s grand opening of Victoria Gate undoubtedly boosting the city’s already strong appeal.

“Combining world-class retail with a rich heritage and vibrant culture, Leeds has all the components necessary to become Europe’s Capital of Culture 2023.”