St Albans Christmas Market under scrutiny

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News release: 08 March 2017

The performance of the St Albans Christmas Market came under the spotlight in a review by councillors from St Albans City and District Council last Thursday (2 March).

The market attracted a record number of visitors last Christmas of 118,000, according to a report presented to the Council’s Community, Environment and Leisure Scrutiny Committee. Of these, 67% came from outside St Albans, according to a survey by tourism students from the University of Bedfordshire.

Committee members acknowledged that the event was valued by many in the community and that it was bringing in visitors from outside the District. 

Some councillors expressed concern about the ongoing cost to the Council of running the event which is hoped will produce an income stream in the long term. Figures in the report show there was a deficit of £53,072 for 2016/17, compared to £45,503 for 2015/16, £57,449 for 2014/15 and £79,455 when the market launched in 2013/14. In particular, members were concerned about a downwards trend in income due to a decline in the number of chalets let.

The Council’s Head of Commercial Development said that Winchester’s Christmas Market, one of the most popular in the south east, took eight years to make a profit.

Overall, members felt that the deficit was acceptable provided the market attracted visitors from outside the District who also spent money elsewhere in the City centre. They said further research was needed to quantify how much visitors were spending in St Albans’ shops and restaurants.

One councillor suggested the market would benefit from being moved from the Vintry Garden, near St Albans Cathedral, to a more central location. Another suggestion was made for improved signage to encourage a two-way flow of people between the market and the City centre.

Other councillors said more income could be generated if the market ran right up to Christmas and did not finish a week before as occurred this year. However, officers explained that the proximity to Christmas varied as the finish date was always the last weekend before to allow for the market to be cleared. 

The Committee recommended that a working party of councillors and officers should be set up to help develop future Christmas Markets. It was also suggested that this could include business and community representatives.

Councillor Anthony Rowlands, Chair of the Community, Environment and Leisure Scrutiny Committee for St Albans City and District Council, said: “There is a lot of goodwill behind the concept of St Albans Christmas Market which is attracting increasing numbers of visitors each year. Yet, there are aspects of the project that are causing concern, such as the ongoing deficit and the drop in the number of retail chalets let, down from 49 in 2015 to 33 plus seven ‘designer-maker’ chalets in 2016. People need to enjoy coming to the market not only for the entertainment on offer but also to buy gifts for Christmas, otherwise the traders won’t return. 

“The addition of the Meraki tent really helped on the entertainment front this year, but further work needs to be done to attract suitable traders. Research also needs to be carried out to establish whether visitors are also spending money elsewhere in the City’s restaurants and shops. Committee members felt they could work with officers to improve the market and recommended that a working party should be set up to do this.”

The meeting was webcast and can be watched on the Council’s website. The agenda and papers for the meeting are available online.

Councillor contact:
Councillor Anthony Rowlands, Chair of the Community, Environment and Leisure Scrutiny Committee for St Albans City and District Council 
Tel: 01727 839132 
Mob: 07761232064 

Contact for the media:
Amanda Wilkinson, 
Media and Internal Communications Officer 
St Albans City and District Council
Tel: 01727 819317 
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The Community, Environment and Leisure Scrutiny Committee scrutinises and takes an overview of the work of the Council. It has a particular focus on the areas covered by the Community Engagement and Localism; Environmental and Sports, Leisure and Heritage portfolios. 
Credit - Stephanie Belton