In my line of work the two questions I hear most in Manchester are 'Who is going to eat in all these new restaurants?' closely followed by 'How are they going to fill all these new hotel rooms?' writes Thom Hetherington, chief executive of the Northern Restaurant & Bar exhibition and conference.
In a cunning twist to the traditional trick question format the answer to the first enquiry lies in the second itself, and the resultant answers apply across the North West.
First an amuse bouche of cold hard facts: Tony Lyons, of Kuits licensing solicitors, estimates that the number of licensed premises in Greater Manchester increased by almost a quarter since the recession began, from 1,860 to over 2,200. Figures for the city centre are more dramatic still, with an estimated increase of around 50%. And, crucially, these places are full. Have you tried to get a table at San Carlo on a Thursday night? So what is driving this? Sure a booming city centre population of affluent DINKYs (double income, no kids) has played a part, as has local business growth from MediaCity to surging professional services but ultimately this comes down to one thing; tourism.
Tourism barely existed in Manchester in the 1980s, but according to the latest statistics from Visit Britain the city is now the third biggest market for international overnight stays in the UK, and it is catching second-placed Edinburgh up fast. Part of this is down to its strong sporting, musical and cultural scene, part is because of business travel, but also it is because city tourism has become the cultural norm – just as we Brits long to visit exotic Budapest or Lisbon, the residents of such places crave a weekend in buzzing Manchester. That growth is reflected by the hotel sector, and, to state the obvious, hotel rooms don't have kitchens and visitors tend to enjoy spending disproportionately on eating out and entertaining.
In 2006, central Manchester had 4,990 hotel rooms, but by 2013, this had jumped 58% to 7,860. If all of the newly proposed hotels are built that number will jump to 11,137 by the end of 2016, a total increase of 123% in just eight years and one of the largest hotel room pipelines in the world. Not only that but STR Global's latest research shows Manchester's hotel occupancy rates hitting pre-recession peaks, 78% in the first eight months of 2014.
In October 2014, the Manchester hotel market was one of only seven across Europe to record an ADR (average daily rate) year-on-year increase of more than 10% and one of only six markets to achieve a RevPAR (revenue per available room) year-on-year increase of more than 15%.
Imagine London or New York with no tourists, dependent on residents alone. Their admittedly still impressive restaurant scenes would be a pale shadow of their current selves. Anyone who thinks the North West's dining scene is saturated and will be driven by incremental tweaks to local demographics is barking up the wrong tree. It will be driven not by locals but by tourists, whether from London, Madrid or Hong Kong, and we can all drink to that. At least when the queue at the bar has died down.
- Northern Restaurant & Bar 2015 takes place in Manchester on 17 and 18 March. See details at northernrestaurantandbar.co.uk