Culture Kent Research Programme 2017

Research carried out by Visit Kent and the Tourism and Events Research Hub at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), as part of the Culture Kent partnership, found that a higher proportion of Kent visitors taking short breaks and mid-length holidays identified themselves as cultural tourists.

Culture Kent was a three-year cultural tourism project, led by Visit Kent and Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate from 2014 to 2017 and funded by Arts Council England’s and VisitEngland’s £3 million Cultural Destinations programme. The project sought to reposition Kent as one of the UK’s creative counties and to bring arts organisations and tourism businesses together to create new ways of attracting more cultural visitors.

Work included launching six Pilot Projects in key destinations (Margate, Folkestone, Canterbury, Whitstable, Medway and Dover) to develop cross-sectoral partnership working through a series of events and new artworks, and a two-year research programme to evaluate the existing cultural tourism offer, explore cross-sectoral working opportunities and examine the perceptions, motivations, experiences and demographics of ‘cultural tourists’ to Kent.

The research report found that cultural visitors are seeking more experience-led trips, and want to visit more businesses and attractions in their chosen location but with the aim of understanding each place’s cultural identity.

Key findings of the Visit Kent and CCCU research included:

  • 54% of those surveyed associate Kent as a cultural destination (above the VisitEngland average of 35% for Great Britain)
  • A higher proportion of existing Kent cultural tourists went on short breaks (51%) and mid-length holidays (21%) than existing Kent leisure tourists (43% and 14% respectively)
  • Cultural tourists value destinations with an attractive natural setting
  • Cultural trips are extremely diverse and are increasingly about authentic experiences across multiple sites and businesses in one destination, all of which help visitors to understand and experience the place, its people and its culture
  • Cultural tourists’ tendency to spend longer in Kent reflects an opportunity to actively promote the cultural tourism offer and encourage more sustained cross-sectoral collaboration, to attract more visitors and enhance economic spend

An estimated 37% of world travel is undertaken by ‘cultural tourists’, according to the World Tourism Organisation, and Kent’s coastal towns are frequently cited as national examples of successful coastal regeneration, with towns like Margate, Folkestone and Whitstable making arts and culture a focal point of their identities.

The research findings will also support a major new tourism project led by Visit Kent and Turner Contemporary to create a new arts ‘treasure hunt’ trail along the South East coast by mid 2019. Culture Coasting is supported by the UK Government’s £40 million Discover England Fund and Arts Council England, and will combine original new works by leading contemporary artists, geocaching technology and bookable itineraries on a tourist trail along the South East’s spectacular coastline covering Essex, Kent and East Sussex.

Read the Culture Kent summary report here

To read the research reports and case studies in full, visit the CCCU Tourism and Events Research Hub

Chief executive of Visit Kent Sandra Matthews-Marsh MBE said: “This project has once again highlighted the importance of the cultural visitor offer, and helped us to further define what a cultural destination needs to deliver to visitors. We were particularly pleased to co-lead on the project’s research arm with CCCU, as the results clearly demonstrate the benefit of attracting more cultural visitors to the county, as it is they who invest more time in the county and subsequently more money into the local economy.

“It is more important than ever to understand the needs of cultural visitors, and how they engage with the places they visit on a deeper level. Our research combined with the outcomes of the Culture Kent pilot projects builds a clear picture of what cultural visitors are looking and gives us the beginnings of a new ‘toolkit’ for tourism businesses and partners to use to build new audiences.”

Project Director Culture Kent Sarah Dance said: “The Culture Kent Project gave us important new insight into cultural tourism to the county. This new research allows us to understand our audiences better, meaning we are now able to deliver a real step-change in the visitor economy. We know that in order to become a really successful ‘cultural destination’ we need to be a networked area, delivering a total experience to visitors that helps them understand a location and its people, through history and contemporary culture. Culture Coasting will take forward this knowledge to create a new and exciting connected experience for visitors to the South East coast region.”

Director, Tourism and Events Research Hub at Canterbury Christ Church University Dr Karen Thomas said: “The findings from the Culture Kent research programme show that the time is right for increased cross-sectoral working, with key drivers converging to support the move to more collaborative work between tourism and culture/the arts. Culture Kent created an effective enabling environment for this, unlocking new possibilities for the sectors to work together. This research is important to the legacy of Culture Kent, providing an enhanced understanding of the cultural tourism landscape together with organisational and consumer perspectives on cultural tourism.”