Observer column: 15 January 2016
Hastings is THE Place to Be!
We've been doing very well recently on listings and 'best of' ratings. Already this year, English Heritage has described the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings as the most important of the year, and the Royal Mint has issued a commemorative 50p coin for the event. The Guardian's prestigious review of the best places in the world to visit in 2016 includes Hastings (along with Rio de Janeiro, Bordeaux, Copenhagen and the Great Barrier Reef!). Metro, the world's largest free newspaper, lists Hastings in its top eleven places to visit, and towards the end of last year Hastings Old Town won the Academy of Urbanism's 'great neighbourhood' award (after Hastings was the runner up in the 'great town' award in 2014).
The standard of accommodation in Hastings is also being recognised, with this year's 'Good Hotel Guide' listing six boutique hotels in Hastings - more listed hotels than Brighton and Eastbourne combined. And the standard-setting Michelin Guide 2016 also lists six hotels in Hastings as 'delightful places to stay'.
This all looks promising for tourism in 2016. Described in several newspapers as 'one of the coolest piers in the world', Hastings Pier will re-open in spring, after which the ROOT1066 creative arts festival will gear up for the summer. The festival will be launched at the London Art Fair next week. And there's the almost end-to-end procession of events throughout the year, starting with Fat Tuesday music festival at the beginning of February, and continuing through Jack-in-the-Green, St Leonards Festival, the Beer and Music Festival, The Mid-Summer Fish Fest, the Seafood and Wine Festival, and much more. The council is also supporting heritage events during Hastings Week, at the end of which there will be a specially grand re-enactment at the battleground itself, as well as Hastings bonfire procession and fireworks. And on top of all that, 'official' Pirate Day is back, celebrating our world record 14,231 pirates in 2012.
But while there's plenty to enjoy here, and the standard of our tourist accommodation is improving, we need much more of it. Bournemouth has twenty times more bed spaces than Hastings, where we've been much more dependent on day trippers. If we're to get people to spend longer here and enjoy all that's on offer, we need many more boutique hotels, as well as good quality self-catering accommodation. We'll be talking to tourist accommodation providers and others in the local tourism sector to see what more can be done to achieve this. Tourism remains an important part of the local economy and, coupled with the creative, cultural and heritage sectors, represents a significant route to economic regeneration. We have to make the most of it, and we have to attract 'higher value' tourists who stay for longer and spend more.
So the programme of events this year, on this significant anniversary, are especially important in identifying Hastings as an international destination where people take holidays to enjoy first-class arts and culture, for prolonged stays in high-quality accommodation. We should aim for nothing less.
So, all in all, it looks like being a good year for Hastings. All we need now is a wonderful, warm summer, in which our record as the sunniest town in the country is once again upheld - we can but hope!