This morning, Tobias Ellwood’s Conurbation 2050 played host to John Carmichael, of National Coastal Tourism Academy (NCTA), who looked at the ongoing role of the organisation in its brief to study the nature of coastal tourism and growth in the visitor economy, with Bournemouth being at the centre of its focused study. John explained the ways in which the local economy can expand to make the most of visitor numbers, and how projects and initiatives can have a direct impact for both visitors and residents of the conurbation.

A number of concerns were raised by attendees with regards to transport, and the ways in which Bournemouth can accommodate visitors who travel by rail, both in terms of simpler connectivity and desires to expand and modernise the existing rail infrastructure. AFC Bournemouth’s successful rise to the top tier of English football, the Premier League, has been notable, and perhaps an important contributor to an increase in visitor numbers, which Tobias Ellwood MP was keen to ensure continued.

Tony Williams, Chief Executive of Bournemouth Borough Council also spoke to explain ways in which the local authority worked hard to maintain a consistent support and investment in tourism despite cuts in local government having stifled the funding of such activities by other councils like Newcastle’s, whose arts, culture and tourism budget had been decimated. He also remarked that although the recession had undoubtedly hit businesses hard and presented a challenge to both local government and business, it had provoked some positive effects in the ways in which funding has been allocated and re-imagined.

Mr Williams also examined the decline of seaside resorts like Blackpool which rode a wave of prosperity in the 70s and 80s; seeing the town as a variant of Las Vegas, but had become lacklustre and dated as it struggled to compete in the changing tourist market.

Tobias Ellwood interjected to add that Bournemouth might well face a similar threat, and that providing solutions towards various new ventures could ensure that Bournemouth’s future was assured, even if the finishing of these projects could outlast those in office at the time to oversee their inception. Cheap airline flights to resorts in areas like Barcelona demand that Bournemouth rise to meet the challenge – with Mr Carmichael noting that very often, families will have a varying amount of disposable income, which could provoke visitors to choose to visit and reside in the town ‘on a whim’, rather than a planned and booked holiday.

Tony Williams remarked that Bournemouth was ‘exceptional’ at achieving ‘very good’ results, but that this should need to be taken to the next level, that of a ‘world-class’ resort, offering a real competition to rivals. Mark Cribb, owner of Bournemouth-based Urban Guild, pointed out the need for real investment in the ‘already great’ park facilities. With council budgets constrained, Mark recognised the substantial need for private investment, but with a visit to a local parks area being valued at around four pence a trip, Mark suggested there be a donation of sorts, providing us with the best possible facilities, including a fantastic playpark for children.

In all, a thorough and thought-provoking debate took place over wonderful breakfasts, provided by Urban Reef, which, it must be noted, has recently taken on a new executive chef from Royal Ascot. However, Mark was quick to suggest that, although the new chef had previously cooked for HM The Queen and her guests at more than £2,000 a head, Urban’s prices would remain as competitive as ever!