CLAIMS that Airbourne generates £27million for the local economy over the four days of the annual festival have been blown out of the water after it emerged the council’s sums were based on around 46,000 visitors staying for the long weekend – in a town with just 5,500 hotel beds.
Last weekend saw tens of thousands head to Eastbourne seafront for what was generally regarded as a superb event and organisers believe the presence of the Vulcan bomber on the Saturday contributed to a record day’s attendance despite the high-profile absence of the Red Arrows.
Local hoteliers held a bucket collection to raise cash for next year’s event – with a third going to the town’s RNLI – and a plea in last week’s Herald encouraged people to dig deep and contribute to a bumper total.
However, the Borough Council estimate the event brings £27million to the town was called into question after the local authority revealed the methodology behind the figure.
When asked by the Herald to justify the amount, the town hall revealed how its staff arrived at the sky-high figure.
They explained, “We work closely with the University of Brighton’s Centre for Tourism Policy Studies to assess the impact of Airbourne on our town’s economy. They assessed around 234,348 staying visitors come to the event and 22 per cent of them stay for four nights at an average of £53 a night.
“By conservative estimates, all visitors spend on average £18.75 each, a day, over 2.3 days, on eating out and entertainment and around £11.22 on travel/petrol and other subsidiaries.
“The ‘average’ spend is therefore £82.97 per head, bearing in mind some will spend less, but many a lot more, equating to an estimated economic impact on the town of £27,549,766.00 for Eastbourne’s businesses.”
A quick look at the facts though immediately opens questions. Darren Weir, member of Eastbourne Hoteliers Association (EHA), confirmed the total beds available in the town is around 5,500 – although that does not include self catering options.
Nevertheless, that number is still significantly less than the 46,000-odd people the council says stay locally for all four days.
And Mr Weir also said that, for an average non-Airbourne weekend in August, most hotels would already be expecting occupancy rates of between 90 per cent and 100 per cent, meaning that even if every hotel bed was full, it would not necessarily be down to the attraction of Airbourne but rather Eastbourne as a seaside town.
He said the key factor was the weather, which helped provide a late flurry of bookings.
He said, “Undoubtedly people came away last minute for Airbourne - but there was also a surge of bookings because the weather turned better and when some arrived they did not know what Airbourne was.
“One thing is certain though is the crowds were amazing over Airbourne and the publicity your paper helped create made bucket collecting so much easier.”
That collection was organised by the EHA, which sometimes struggles to get people to contribute because of the much trumpeted council figures. The Herald has received numerous emails from readers asking why, if it brings in £27million, should locals fund it.
Cathy Giorgi, another EHA member, said it would be easier to collect cash if people knew how tight finances actually were.
She said, “The event runs at a loss. Bed spaces are already booked and busy in August. Hoteliers don’t really benefit directly.” Although she added, “Of course many local businesses do prosper from it and overall it is an event that brings prosperity to the town. It also puts us on the map and is a fantastic promotion for Eastbourne.”
One local expert believes by talking up the financial benefits of Airbourne, the council may be inadvertently talking itself out of getting cash from elsewhere.
John Pick, a professor of cultural management, says he has been tackling this sort of “barmy bean counting” for 50 years.
He said, “Eastbourne most certainly does not make anything remotely resembling £27 million from Airbourne, but whatever notional profit it DOES make, it is of course perfectly possible that it would have made it anyway - at the height of the season.”
And he was highly critical of the methodology used. “It is absolutely stupid. How on earth do the council staff know that 234,348 visitors come to the event? They don’t count them. Why on earth do they assume 22 per cent of them stay for four nights? Who has worked out they spend £18.75 a day each?
“Economic Impact Studies, as they are known, apply only to organisations like Disneyland Paris, when promoters know exactly how many paying customers they have, and when they own all the hotel, catering and merchandising outlets, as well as the transport infrastructure - so they can be certain all the money ends up within that micro economy. None of those conditions apply to Airbourne.”
“Speaking as a professor of Cultural Management who has worked around the world for half a century on these issues, I have never met such a pathetic, slewed and childish attempt to justify a guessed-at figure.
“Until the Borough Council stops peddling invented figures it will continue to fail to access any of the increased public funding currently enjoyed by Hastings, Brighton and Worthing etc.”
Just this week half a dozen seaside towns received a share of almost £5million to help boost tourism and local industries, including a £2million pot heading to Eastbourne’s airshow rivals Bournemouth to push forward plans to create a National Coastal Tourism Academy.
For its part, the borough council is adamant Airbourne generates the £27million – or certainly thereabouts. A town hall spokesman said the authority invests in Airbourne because, “It’s good for the profile of the town and our wider economy,” and few would doubt that.
Steve Leach, landlord of the Windsor Tavern, said he and other businesses had struggled over the weekend. “Nobody here made much money during Airbourne. Everyone I saw was carrying a cool box down to the seafront, not going in local bars and shops. I don’t know where £27million comes from. I didn’t even made £27 so someone else must have had a very good weekend.”