Location change and later opening hours suggested for the 2018 Christmas Market after visitor count drops

09th February 2018

A collection of traders, council members, and members of the public swapped ideas on how to improve the St Albans Christmas Market.

Should it be held at the Alban Arena? What about Westminster Lodge? What about making it more accessible? Should it be open longer?

Attendees to the Wednesday evening meeting at St Albans council offices were first given a presentation by Liz Marcy, the market’s project manager.

She said the original objectives of the market, which has been run by St Albans council since 2013, were to bring visitors into the district, to encourage them to spend money elsewhere in the city centre, to provide a community event, and generate income for the council.

She reported the 2017 market had fewer visitors than the year before, with 102,000 compared to 118,000 in 2016.

This she blamed on the snow and ice which closed the market on Sunday, December 11, which greatly impacted on visitor numbers as there had been 12,000 the day before.

Attendees were told the Verulamium Museum attracts 70,000 visitors a year and the new Museum and Gallery has a target of 200,000 visitors for its first year.

Business students from Herts Uni had found 59 per cent of visitors to the market intended to spend money elsewhere in the city.

These facts, Liz said, proved the market had achieved what it set out to do: attract visitors.

However the market is yet to break even, which was put down to the sheer number and variety of Christmas markets in the UK, which created a competitive market for councils looking to snatch up the best traders.

Negative press coverage was blamed for driving traders away from St Albans, but one trader said stallholders were already planning for the 2018 market while St Albans had yet to launch theirs.

A multi-year plan for the market, for instance for the next three to five years, was suggested at the meeting.

Accessibility was also cited as a problem, due to what Liz called the “challenging topography” of the Vintry Garden, where the market is held.

Several alternative locations were proposed, such as Westminster Lodge and the Alban Arena.

Others pointed out Westminster Lodge often flooded and was a steep hill walk away from the other city centre businesses.

Owner of The Hatch, Chris Evans, said there was no point in moving location, and late night openings, suggested by other attendees, do not work well for retailers in his experience.

He instead suggested focusing on live music, food, and drink and letting Christmas parties rent out the teepee at the centre of the market.

He also asked what barriers prevented the council from making a multi-year plan.

Liz replied: “It’s quite a divisive issue. For some people the market is just a waste of money, and they would rather it be spent on cleaning Verulamium lake.”

After the discussion, attendees were asked to list the three best things about the market, and the three things they would change.

The best things according to the attendees were the location due to the picturesque backdrop of the cathedral and the good security, the opportunity the market provided for designers to sell their wares, and the bar and food outlets.

The things people would change were the events contractor employed by the council to run the day-to-day operations, the signage, the location, opening times, accessibility, the number of traders, better data on how long people spent in the market, a multi-year strategy, and extending the market up to the Clock Tower and French Row.

The suggestions from this meeting, and from another the previous Sunday, will be put before the council in due course.