Birmingham & Black Country

How will Fox News comments hit tourism in Birmingham?

Tourists in the UK Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Could tourism to the UK suffer as a result of the Fox News interview?

Birmingham has enjoyed a number of good tourism tidings in recent years. The city has been lauded by US publications, but how will claims on Fox News that it is a "no-go city" for non-Muslims affect its image abroad?

"It's one of the most attractive cities in the world to visit."

Emma Gray is not talking about Venice, Prague or Sydney.

She is talking about Birmingham.

As director of marketing at Visit Birmingham, the city's official leisure tourism group, Emma might be expected to be biased in favour of the city.

But Birmingham's tourism stock has risen considerably in recent years.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Birmingham may have more canals than Venice - but experts question whether that's enough of a tourist draw

In 2012, Birmingham was the only English city outside London to be selected for the New York Times' list of 45 Places to Go. It was described as "big-shouldered, friendly and fun"

The following year its virtues were extolled by New York Magazine which wrote: "Its cultural offerings can keep pace with the capital's."

The magazine cited " the world-renowned Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, plus a rock scene that launched Ozzy Osbourne and Duran Duran" as evidence.

In December last year Birmingham was named among the top 10 most exciting destinations to visit in 2015 by the travel guidebook series Rough Guides, joining New Orleans, Hamburg and Wellington.

"As well as welcoming a record 34 million people last year, Birmingham also attracted a 32 per cent rise in international visitors - a greater increase than anywhere else in the UK," said Ms Gray.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Birmingham's art gallery is one of the city's many cultural offerings

So how might Birmingham be affected by American terrorism commentator Steven Emerson's claims on Fox News that it is a "Muslim-only city" where non-Muslims "don't go in"?

Mr Emerson has since apologised but some believe the harmful effects of his words on Birmingham's international standing may linger.

"There has been a huge effort to put Birmingham out there," said Scott Lucas, professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham, an American who has lived in the city for 25 years.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The UK has seen a steady rise in international visitors - but could the Fox News story change that?

International visitors to Birmingham and London

According to passenger numbers, Birmingham and London have seen a steady increase in international visitors over the past 10 years, with Birmingham as the UK's fourth most-visited city, behind London, Edinburgh and Manchester.

Visits (000s)

2004: London visits: 11,700 Birmingham visits: 720

2008: London visits: 14,753 Birmingham visits: 763

2013: London visits: 16,784 Birmingham visits: 941

Source: International Passenger Survey, Office for National Statistics

"But while people know Fox News is candyfloss TV, the implications could be quite serious.

"Mr Emerson didn't just say Birmingham is a 'no-go city' - he basically insulted the whole of the UK.

"It's exactly the kind of comment that could get my mum and dad on the phone saying, 'Is it safe to come to Britain now?' It could be extremely destructive."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The implications for UK tourism 'could be serious' according to some experts

Some question just how important the American tourist market is to Birmingham.

While it is true North American tourism remains a key market for Britain, with 2.8m Americans having visited last year, for Birmingham the influx seems less critical.

The US market ranks sixth in the list of international visitors to Birmingham, with 55,000 trips recorded in 2013 - behind countries like Ireland, Germany, France and Poland.

International visitors to Birmingham: The Breakdown

Staying visits in Birmingham (000) 2010 2011 2012 2013
Ireland 103 103 81 116
Germany 64 74 74 80
France 47 55 67 53
Poland 97 87 64 116
Netherlands 43 25 41 46
USA 43 40 36 55
Spain 39 37 30 41
Hungary 22 11 29 29
Italy 28 21 24 43
Source: Office for National Statistics

"All credit to the council for trying to promote the city but I don't think Birmingham resonates for most American tourists," said Professor Lucas.

"A few years ago, the city council put out a promotional flyer that, it turned out, featured an image of Birmingham, Alabama.

"Liverpool has the Beatles and Stratford-upon-Avon has Shakespeare. The tagline that Birmingham has more canals than Venice isn't going to do it."

That said, between 2012 and 2013, the city saw a rise of almost 20,000 American visitors.

Birmingham's American links

  • The city is twinned with Chicago
  • There are several towns in the US called Birmingham, the biggest being Birmingham Alabama. There is also Birmingham, Michigan and a neighbourhood in Pittsburgh called Birmingham
  • Dr Joseph Priestley, a friend of Benjamin Franklin, lived in Birmingham
  • Washington Irving, an American writer, lived for a time in Birmingham
  • Birmingham has an American Football team - the Birmingham Bulls

Ms Gray said she hoped Mr Emerson's comments would not undermine the city's efforts.

"While Mr Emerson has acknowledged he was wrong and has apologised for his comments based on gross inaccuracies, we do hope US viewers recognise how ill-informed he is," she said.

"We hope they continue to consider Birmingham as a must-see destination on their next visit to the UK."

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