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Report: LEEDS 2023 can supercharge the city and West Yorkshire’s visitor economy

Blue lasers shine up into the dark sky from the top of the Bridgewater Place tower in Leeds.

How can we further fulfil the unrealised potential of Leeds and West Yorkshire as places with tremendous cultural assets and creative strength? A new report suggests LEEDS 2023 has the ability to lead to:

  • 10% increase in visitor numbers versus 4% without.
  • £114m of extra direct and indirect revenue to the Leeds visitor economy in 2023, rising to just over £140m by 2030.
  • Creating 1,310 new jobs in 2023, rising to 1,620 by 2030.
  • Anticipated return on investment of 8:1 for West Yorkshire and 6:1 for Leeds

LEEDS 2023 can expect to generate an economic boost of £114m and create 1,300 new jobs during its landmark year of culture, according to new independent research.

With 365 days of cultural activity planned across all 33 of the city’s wards, LEEDS 2023 is looking to unleash creativity across the city by producing projects that bring people together through exchange, collaboration and co-creation.

Examining evidence from previous cities of culture such as Hull and Derry, the report compiled by BOP Consulting looked at the impact of Covid-19 on the Leeds and West Yorkshire visitor economies, comparing scenarios that featured and excluded the LEEDS 2023 planned programme of activity.

The research identified the direct impact cultural events can have on job creation, skills, inward investment and economic activity, creating a positive and lasting legacy.

The report found that Leeds can expect a sustained increase in visitor numbers, including overnight stays, with an anticipated 10 per cent increase during 2023, compared to only 4 per cent without LEEDS 2023.

It cited other European celebrations of culture, including Liverpool, which demonstrated a consistent pattern of growth in visitor numbers – for example, total visits to Liverpool and Merseyside rose by 34% and 19% respectively in 2008.

“Based on past performance of years of culture and accounting for the impact of Covid-19 on the Leeds visitor economy, we forecast the development of the Leeds and West Yorkshire visitor economies – with an anticipation of a 10% increase in visitor numbers to Leeds during 2023 with LEEDS 2023, versus 4% without; thereafter we project 4% growth in both scenarios,” stated the report authors.

“This equates to £114m of extra direct and indirect revenue to the Leeds visitor economy in 2023, with LEEDS 2023, rising to just over £140m by 2030. In terms of extra jobs created, this equates to 1310 new jobs in 2023, rising to 1620 by 2030.”

The wider West Yorkshire region is also expected to gain from LEEDS 2023, with evidence citing that Merseyside enjoyed a 20% boost in day visitors during the Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008. Based on these figures, West Yorkshire could expect a £49m annual boost to its visitor economy, thanks to LEEDS 2023.

The return on investment from LEEDS 2023 in 2023 is 6:1 in Leeds alone, and 8:1 for West Yorkshire as a whole.

As well as the direct economic benefits from boosted visitor numbers and inward investment, the creative and digital sectors, tourism and sport in Leeds and West Yorkshire would also receive a significant uplift, strengthening the Northern offer alongside the likes of Manchester and Greater Manchester.

LEEDS 2023 will also have particular relevance for the newly-elected West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin who will have devolved powers to lead on the region’s spending and recovery plans post-Covid. Ms Brabin will have the opportunity to deliver on her manifesto pledge to support a ‘creative recovery’ which will help the cultural momentum already building across the region with Leeds 2023, as well as Kirklees Year of Music 2023, Calderdale Year of Culture 2024, Bradford City of Culture 2025 bid.

“Leeds enjoys significant specialisms and employment clusters in IT, Museums, Advertising and Performing Arts – and LEEDS 2023 can deepen creative employment specialisation across West Yorkshire,” states the report.

“The creative industries, like tourism and sport, is already an important economic contributor to Leeds. Direct and indirect 2019 GVA* from Leeds’ tourism and creative industries were about £4bn each, with sport contributing £350m in 2019. LEEDS 2023 can help re-energise these vital sectors after Covid-19.”

The report also notes that LEEDS 2023 will be well placed to help deliver local and national priorities for the economy and contribute to the well-being of West Yorkshire residents. It notes that LEEDS 2023 priorities are already aligned to those of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, such as increasing productivity. Evidence suggests that investing in a Year of Culture can inspire and boost take-up of educational courses and help to put these creative industries on the map as a career option. Interest in the arts and creative industries by Hull residents increased by 18% and 16% respectively in 2017, say the report authors.

On a national level, LEEDS 2023 supports numerous UK government priorities, including the ‘levelling up’ agenda, helped by the inclusion of key national institutions relocating to or being created in the city: Channel 4 Headquarters, the BBC northern relocation strategy, British Library North and the National Poetry Centre.

Kully Thiarai, creative director and CEO of LEEDS 2023, welcomed the report saying: “We want to make Leeds a national, European and worldwide focus of attention but, more importantly, LEEDS 2023 will help to reinvigorate the city. Of course, the economic recovery is important, but we also need to recover individually and as communities that have been devastated during lockdown. Creativity and the arts are needed now more than ever, and LEEDS 2023 can have a huge impact on both mental and physical well–being that can’t always be measured on a spreadsheet.”

She added: “We are developing an ambitious and globally significant programme to uplift and inspire people. We want everyone to join in and celebrate the very best that Leeds has to offer. Now is not the time to hold back and LEEDS 2023 will provide the platform for a creative recovery that benefits all of the people of West Yorkshire.”

Please email if you would like to read the full report of our research.

IMAGE: Laser Light City, Lizzie Coombes