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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Bournemouth, south coast chameleon
By Janey Doyle
BBC News, Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth mixing the old and new
Bournemouth mixes old and new ways to attract tourists
As part of a series of features studying the UK's seaside towns, the spotlight falls on Bournemouth in Dorset.

On a warm August day, sisters Iris Field and Violet Nicholas, from Solihull in the West Midlands, are enjoying the view across Bournemouth beach from the pier.

The retired pair are regular visitors to the town.

"It's more for the older end of the public, it hasn't got amusement arcades and we stay in a nice family hotel," Iris enthused.

"Yes, I've noticed things have changed though over the years," she added.

BournemouthNewcastleRhylNew BrightonWhitstableWeston-Super-MareBournemouthScarboroughRothesay

Bournemouth is a south coast chameleon.

The traditional image of a town to which people retire still remains for some. But the resort now thrives on international students, moreso than foreign visitors, acts as a base for the activity-seeking 50+ age group, provides an easy beach holiday for families and caters for "the cash rich, time poor young".

The seafront does not offer an abundance of arcades nor bucket-and-spade stalls and donkey rides.

Instead it houses a selection of restaurants, a train ride and an aquarium and is billed as "chic and cosmopolitan" in the visitor information centre.

A place of retreat

Echoes of the resort's genteel past are evident in the 12km of beaches and a number of parks and gardens.

It was founded as a retreat for those seeking respite, and the town was recognised by Queen Victoria in 1890.

Artist Andrea Duffell
Coaches used to come down to drop people to stay for a week or two
Andrea Duffell

Tourism peaked in the town in the 1950s and 60s, and now has 5.2m visitors annually.

An outdoor show run by local artists has been held each summer for 50 years in the Lower Gardens.

Artist Andrea Duffell has been involved for 30 years, and has noticed a decline in the exhibit's visitors.

"The shops didn't used to open on a Sunday, bands were playing every day in the gardens and coaches used to come down to drop people to stay for a week or two.

"On a cloudy day this was ideal as people didn't have a lot of places to go.

"Now people come for a long weekend and I haven't seen so many families."

Thomas Harris is helping a lone child onto a tea-cup ride that he mans on the pier: "Bournemouth used to be for older people, now they come from all generations for the nightclubs and pubs."

Bournemouth pier
Population: 163,500
Famous residents: Max Bygraves, Harry & Jamie Redknapp, Matthew Kelly
Interesting fact: Bournemouth has more international language schools than any other UK town
The nature of the holidaymaker has changed, but Bournemouth is still bustling. People mill around everywhere and thousands pack the beaches, despite it being slightly overcast.

Mark Smith, head of tourism at Bournemouth Borough Council, said the town had survived as a resort because it "hasn't diversified into other areas but focused on attracting different types of tourism".

Tourists visibly fall into different zones: the pier is full of over 60s, the beach filled with families, groups of young people and couples sit outside the copious bars and groups of international language students bask in the gardens.

When Bournemouth University's population goes home for the summer, the space is more than filled by 14,000 foreign students arriving each week.

Visitors' views: what are we doing in Bournemouth?

Sitting in the town's warm gardens surrounded by foreign voices, it is easy to imagine being somewhere more exotic.

As youngsters passed his office at Westbourne Academy, Mike Francis, language school liaison officer, said: "Education tourism is a huge development and foreign students fuel tourism by working in hotels and bars."

Language schools are a type of business tourism that has kept the town going through the cheap flight boom.

And in the 1980s, Bournemouth International Centre was built as a venue to host conferences and enable hotels to open all year.

Mr Smith added: "We want to be upmarket; we have the assets of the gardens, the connection between the greenery and the sea and we have restaurants."

You can't miss the hundreds of restaurants and bars or the 30 night clubs that hold up to 20,000 people a night, although they "fit in in stylish ways", said Mr Smith.

Controversial developments

Blackpool might have a Pleasure Beach, Brighton an alternative arts scene but Bournemouth has a night life.

Despite calls from Dorset Police that there should be no more licensed premises in the town, plans are under way for a new development encompassing the disused Winter Gardens, to hold another 14 restaurants.

"People aren't staying full board in the hotels, they fuel demand for more restaurants," added Mr Smith.

Another development is aimed at further diversifying the tourist market.

Boscombe Pier
Boscombe pier entry now and an artist's impression of the new look

To the east of the town is Boscombe where regeneration will see the 1960s-era pier approach updated and an artificial surf reef built - unique to Europe the reef is due to open next August.

But it is not to compete with Newquay. Beverley White in the tourist information centre explained the town was hoping to attract "stockbroker surfers - the 30+ professional who has money for an expensive hobby".

Success does not always follow the town's ideas.

The Imax cinema was built as part of a waterfront complex in the 1990s to house an all-weather attraction - a 3D cinema.

Residents did not find the obstruction of their seafront view attractive, tourists were not drawn to the films and it closed after three years.

Aside from the controversial waterfront complex, Bournemouth is a big resort acting in a subtle way - there are no bright neon signs, no cars along the main seafront and few pubs spilling onto the sands.

Back on the pier, preparations in the theatre are under way for the evening show: We'll Meet Again - Hits from the Blitz, but Bournemouth is now more than just a place for those who remember the war.

Thank you for your comments.

I have been a student in Bournemouth for the last two years, and I would'nt swap it for anywhere! The beach and parks are great when the sun is out, the town centre has plenty of shops, busses are generally very good and the night life is excellent! What more could anyone ask for in a town?
Andrew, Essex

I was born and raised in Bounemouth. Really nice seaside resort town. And yes it is a very well liked for its beaches, and seaside atmosphere. With lots of clubs and bars, but it still needs to catch up. Time to get away from the Victoriana, beach huts, ice cream, and sleazy pier entertainment. Time to catch up with the 20th Century.
roger white, hot springs village, usa

Compared with seaside resorts in the USA - think of the Jersey Shore - Bournemouth has a touch of class! In summer, the weather is sufficiently cool for one to stroll comfortably -rather than pant for air-conditioning. By low US standards - public transport is excellent. Stupidly, the corporation did away with the old environmentally-friendly trolley-busses, though. The surrounding countryside is beautiful!
Alistair Cammidge, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

My grandparents have always lived in Christchurch (just down the road). Each summer, my two brothers and I would go to stay with my them for a week. We all always looked forward to it with great excitement - a week of lazy days on the beach at Boscombe and nights in the arcades! My Granddad was also in charge of the local Boys Brigade, so we used to get to meet a lot of people from the area. Unfortunately I live in bustling London now, but have always held onto a fantasy of moving back down to the Bournemouth area.

I love Bournemouth, and Boscombe is rapidly becoming my second home! Friends recently opened the Urban Beach hotel there so I have been spending all my free time hanging out with them - the beach is beautiful and there are a few new bars opening up. Given time I reckon Boscombe will be giving Brighton a run for its money!
Deborah Tilley, London

Hmmm, I'm afraid my lasting memory of Weston-Super-Mare is a depressing one. A few grotty arcades, run-down cafes and a long muddy beach (if you could call it that). Not a place I would wish to visit again! I'd visit sunny Bournemouth any day, but then I may be biased - I live there!
Kev Vaughan, Bournemouth, Dorset

With the exception of the past year, I have lived in Bournemouth and Poole all of my life. These two towns have got it perfectly right, providing the most beautiful and well managed beaches in England. There are no tacky areas of which you will find plenty in Blackpool or Brighton, and the towns cater for both young and the old. Bournemouth and Poole both provide a good balance of old and new, making them, in my (probably biased) eyes, the perfect beachfront destinatations in the UK.
Nick Quickfall-Leonard, Blackburn Lancashire

I am afraid that I can't agree with your rosy view of Bournemouth. While the town did go through a period of growth in the mid to late 90's with the influx of University students, the last 5 years have seen a rapid decline. The town centre after dark is now a virtual no-go area due to constant fights and faceless, characterless bars which attract a similar homogonous crowd. The rush to push Bournemouth as a place to party by the Council has resulted in the loss of many great bars and restaurants and a polarisation in the nightlife as owners sell out and move on.
Patrick, Bournemouth, UK

Residents of Bournemouth should be proud of their town. We have spent many happy holidays at this great resort. The beach is fantastic,the sea clean and the real bonus no arcades every 20 metres! There really is something for everybody here peace and quiet can be found just minutes from places packed with people. The best holiday in Britain, But dont tell everybody.
phillip salt, Swadlincote Derbyshire, UK

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