The seaside pier as a barometer of changing trends in tourism and leisure

Authors: Chapman, A.

Start date: 13 June 2015

2014 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Seaside pier. Piers developed in the early 19th century as simple landing jetties, and later as promenade piers for the increasing number of tourists flocking to British seaside resorts. By the start of the 20th century nearly 100 piers graced the UK coastline, with any self-respecting coastal town promoting its pier as a symbol of its identity as a thriving seaside resort.

Pleasure piers have consistently reflected trends in popular culture, including leisure. Early piers developed from simple promenades over the waves by adding ballrooms, theatres and concert halls from the 1870s onwards. By the early 20th century many piers featured automated amusement machines, funfair rides, and side-stalls in addition to their theatres and bandstands. Significant changes in holidaymaking from the 1970s onwards (Gale, 2005) brought wide ranging impacts on British seaside resorts and their piers. Many iconic piers (such as Brighton West, Margate Jetty, Hunstanton, and Morecambe West End piers) closed, whilst those that remained lost their concert halls and theatres to the increasingly popular amusement arcade video games and fast-food outlets.

Currently there are 58 pleasure piers gracing the UK’s coastline, but many face an uncertain future, with 20% of those surviving being deemed ‘at risk’. Seaside piers are vital to coastal communities in terms of resort identity, heritage, employment, community pride, and tourism (Birch 2013). But, in order to remain viable, pleasure piers must adapt to changing tourism and leisure trends in the 21st century. This paper, through the use of relevant case studies, examines piers that have effectively adapted to, and harnessed, these trends: the heritage pier; the community pier; the lifestyle sports pier; the slow-tourism pier; and the events-venue pier. This paper argues that the future success of seaside piers depends on their ability to adapt and respond to broader changes in the nature of leisure and tourism, and to offer unique leisure experiences at the resorts in which they are located.

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