When I came to Marketing Manchester as managing director in January 2016 I knew that I was joining one of the best destination marketing organisations in the country, at a pivotal moment for the city and for Greater Manchester. Marketing Manchester is an organisation with a fierce reputation for excellent campaigns and innovative delivery and I’m so very proud of what we do to champion Greater Manchester’s rich and diverse offer. My role is to help the team navigate the unique set of opportunities and challenges that we face as a city-region; but nothing could have prepared us for 2017.

Let’s be clear, 2017 was a very difficult year. The city faced one of its darkest moments and suffered unimaginable grief. The events of 22 May 2017 will have an impact for many years to come, and at this time of year, it is especially important to think about the many families that have been affected and to perhaps also consider a donation to the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund – whether you have given to it before or not.

It’s been said many times before, but for all the great sadness and continued hurt following the events of 22 May, there were some very heartening moments to recall. The reaction from our emergency services, from our communities, and from the good people of Greater Manchester was one of bravery, love and support. Those people represent the true spirit of Manchester and have proved themselves to be our city’s greatest asset, as we’ve always known.

When summarising 2017, it is difficult to get past the events of May; however, many of the words and phrases used by the media – as well as across our international networks – focused on the city’s resilience and its defiance of any attempt to disrupt life in one of the world’s greatest cities. For this reason I’d like to turn your attention to some of the great things that happened in 2017 which kept the city moving.

In literal terms, there were indeed a number of ways that the city kept moving. 2017 was the year that Mobikes successfully launched in the city, generating endless discussion about cycling and public transport. Mobikes are now a fixed part of Manchester life and as a China-based company it was particularly positive to see Chinese tourists hopping on the iconic bikes and exploring our paths and laneways this summer. Another icon in the making is the yellow water taxi service WAXI, which really came into its own in 2017 with the addition of a new route connecting MediaCityUK in Salford Quays to Spinningfields via the Manchester Ship Canal. And let’s not forget that 2017 was the 25th anniversary of Metrolink – surely the most iconic of Manchester transport methods. It was wonderful to see both the completion of St Peter’s Square/Second City Crossing project and work beginning on the new line connecting Manchester city centre to the Trafford Centre.

In addition to these third party achievements, here at Marketing Manchester we launched a much-needed tourism sightseeing bus. We also won a significant bid from the Discover England Fund to develop bookable tourism product across Greater Manchester and the north of England. The bus was a result of round one of said fund, so watch this space for additional developments over the next 18 months. Huge thanks, of course, to VisitEngland for their ongoing support on these initiatives.

Thinking globally, 2017 was a fantastic year for connecting with new markets and cultures. In March we had the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s direct routes to Manchester from San Francisco and Boston which was the basis of our very successful US awareness campaign to reaffirm Manchester as a Gateway to the north of England – for tourism and priority sectors across creative, digital and tech and life sciences. Thomas Cook also launched a raft of new routes connecting the States with Manchester, including San Francisco, and will launch a new Seattle route in May 2018 which is very exciting. Rounding off a great year for our three key international markets, we had the second successful year of our Hainan Airlines route from Beijing to Manchester and a new daily route from Muscat with Oman Air.  Further success came with Cathay Pacific increasing frequency on the Hong Kong to Manchester Route which is now a daily service. This has all supported the phenomenon success of Manchester Airport.

In terms of governance and local politics, Greater Manchester voted to elect its first Mayor in May – a post won by Andy Burnham who has been fighting hard since his election to strengthen the region’s position and profile on the global stage whilst also handling with great leadership the tragic curveball that he was thrown within his first weeks being in post. The election of metro-Mayors around the country is a wonderful opportunity for cities like Manchester to have their voice heard.

At Manchester’s biggest ever MIPIM – the annual property convention in Cannes which was our most successful yet in terms of number of events, number of partners and global connections – we said goodbye to Sir Howard Bernstein and then hello to Joanne Roney as the new chief executive at Manchester City Council. Speaking of goodbyes, we also saw one of Manchester’s leading cultural pioneers, Maria Balshaw, leave the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery to undertake the most powerful arts job in the UK at Tate. Such a loss would be a huge blow to any other city, but Manchester, as a city of collaborators, only saw potential and roundly celebrated Maria’s success.

Maria leaves a fantastic cultural legacy that arguably reached a climax this summer during July’s Manchester International Festival; an incredible feat for all involved with some fantastic shows as always. I gave my view on the festival at the time and in hindsight the festival couldn’t have come at a more important time, just a few months after the Manchester Arena attack, and the show ‘What Is the City but the People?’ was an absolute gift to the city. Another big cultural moment happened just last month but absolutely deserves to be championed: Manchester’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. This is an accolade that we can be extremely proud of and is something that we will be shouting very loudly about in 2018.

Speaking of accolades, 2017 was the year where Manchester was named the top regional UK city for creative talent and ranked third in Colliers International Cities of Influence TLC index; when the San Francisco Chronicle named Manchester one of their top places to visit in 2017 and US travel website Smarter Travel named Manchester as one of their most intriguing destinations in the world; and when international conference magazine Smart Meetings named us in its list of top 10 Emerging International Meeting Cities.

Of course, there are many Marketing Manchester initiatives and projects that I would like to flag as highlights. We launched Greater Manchester’s new asset bank, The M Drive, earlier this year – it’s a one-stop treasure trove of images, videos, presentations, documents, factsheets and anything else you can think and if you are in the business of promoting Greater Manchester I urge you to log on and explore. The M Drive launch dovetailed with a huge piece of work that we undertook to refresh the Manchester brand and our stunning new visit, meet and invest websites showcases some of the wonderful new images and video which have resulted from the project.

Marketing Manchester expanded its Global Ambassador programme this year with new recruits such as Stanley Chow who featured in a two-minute short film on BBC World that was shown more than 250 times across North America in October. We successfully held our second Greater Manchester Tourism Conference at Emirates Old Trafford in October and launched the Greater Manchester Internationalisation Strategy in July.

With the support of the GMCA, we very recently launched our global marketing campaign, Come Together Manchester. This is a direct invitation to experience the spirit of diversity that makes Greater Manchester great.  The campaign features a wealth of experiences from across Greater Manchester, appealing to our target audiences – and we will continue to build on this campaign and run it in key international markets throughout 2018. It is delivered in partnership with the likes of Virgin Trains, Ryanair, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Heart of Manchester Bid.  On that note, I am delighted that the Heart of Manchester Bid has won the re ballot to continue to deliver their excellent programme to support and promote an extended bid district.

Of course, no round-up of 2017 would be complete without a mention of some of the high-profile conferences that took place across the city. From the opinion-splitting Conservative Party Conference to the recent Children’s Global Media Summit, Manchester hosted some huge events as well as many very valuable, smaller conferences that are incredibly important in helping us grow and develop our global strengths, particularly across Creative Digital and Tech, Advanced Manufacturing and Life Sciences. The majority of our international conferences are won on bids which are developed by our Convention Bureau alongside partners across Greater Manchester such as Manchester Central, the Universities and our conference ambassadors. 2017 was a fantastic year of bid wins against top global cities like Frankfurt and Barcelona.

To finish up I’d like to return to the start of this blog post and talk a little bit about the work undertaken to try to steer Manchester’s narrative following the Manchester Arena attack. You’ll notice if you’ve looked at our Come Together Manchester campaign, that there is a strong message about shared and lived experiences; about being a welcoming and opening destination for everyone. It’s something that I am very proud of and it follows another key initiative that we undertook in July 2017; our Worker Bee Weekender.

This was a ground-breaking project where we brought over 75 social media influencers from around the world to Manchester on one action-packed weekend; to showcase the city and let it be globally known that it was open and ready to welcome visitors, despite the recent news agenda of the time. I say ‘ground-breaking’ here with some authority – this was the first time that a British destination marketing organisation had undertaken such a project and delivered it so successfully. It is now being replicated up and down the country which is flattery of the highest kind and we will run the project again in the New Year to once again showcase the city’s spirit of togetherness.

I love that I can say that the overall sentiment I’ll take away from 2017 is togetherness. We saw it in the pictures and photographs immediately following the events of 22 May. We saw it during a triumphant Manchester Pride when the hashtag #BeeProud trended globally and people turned out in their thousands to celebrate diversity and difference. The world saw it during the achingly beautiful One Love Manchester concert and Tony Walsh’s performance of what is now a local anthem, This is the Place. And now we see it every day, symbolised by a bee and etched into the hearts of all who know and love this city; a city together, always.

Sheona Southern
Managing Director, Marketing Manchester

@sheonasouthern