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As the 16th official Queen’s Baton Relay – an epic journey visiting 72 Commonwealth countries in 294 days – departed Birmingham Airport earlier today, leaders from the West Midlands’ tourism sector discussed plans to capitalise on the significant economic opportunities created by the Games.

Fiona Allan, Chair of West Midlands Regional Board for Tourism and CEO / Artistic Director of the Birmingham Hippodrome reflected on some of the challenges caused by Covid. She also highlighted how resilience and innovation within the tourism sector, such as festivals and digital performances, had indicated that a healthy return to business was possible.

“A thriving arts and culture scene is imperative to attracting tourists to the area and it is important that we continue to attract young people to the region to invigorate these industries. Despite Covid, we fulfilled our ambitious mission to provide one million moments to our audiences and communities, but we aim to bring even more people back into Birmingham and support the local businesses further. Next year will be an important year for the city, and we have exciting projects and collaborations in the works, including Bus Boycott project, a new co-produced musical highlighting Birmingham’s diverse history during the Commonwealth summer.”

Bob Sleigh, Deputy Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, commented:

“As the Queen’s Baton leaves Solihull to start its international journey, we can recognise the huge importance of raising the West Midlands’ profile to audiences around the globe. The region welcomed more than 2 million international visits in 2019, with these tourists spending a record £1 billion here.

“Reconnecting with our overseas markets, and welcoming them back to this region, is vital as we continue our recovery from the pandemic. Generating more international tourism – which will be boosted by the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – will drive economic growth and showcase the West Midlands as a place to experience and enjoy.”

Para athlete and cultural performer Robin Surgeoner, entrepreneur and TV personality Tru Powell and spoken word artist Amerah Saleh extolled the virtues of growing up in the West Midlands; “a hive of diversity, inclusivity and creativity”. Sharing personal stories of finding support and cultural connection they explained how this enabling them to flourish in their respective careers across arts, sports and culture.  

Robin commented:

“The experience of belonging that the Commonwealth Games is creating throughout the West Midlands is palpable, the ticket ballots have everyone’s interest peaked, the prospect of such great entertainment brings an excitement to the air. My hope is that the Commonwealth Games, and all that follows for the West Midlands focuses on inclusivity, that every citizen, and every visitor can experience not just the Games, but all the wonders of the West Midlands, in a way and manner that fits their aspirations.”

“As one of the youngest and most diverse regions in the world, we’re a place where many cultures come together to collaborate, to innovate and to create. It is this distinctive spirit that makes the West Midlands so special” said Amerah Saleh.

Saleh went on to announce the launch of a Commonwealth-wide relay of words and art starting today; The Relaytionship. As the Queen’s Baton traverses 72 countries in 294 days, so too will ‘The Relaytionship’ inviting individuals from every corner of the Commonwealth to contribute their own unique words to the piece.

The words gathered will be used to create a unique piece of ‘hyper hybrid art’ created by Coventry-based audio-visual artist Tommy Xiao Ji in collaboration with Amerah Saleh to be revealed during Birmingham 2022.

Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said:

“The positive impact of a major sporting event such as the Commonwealth Games on the visitor economy in Birmingham and the West Midlands region is indisputable. As we’ve seen on the Gold Coast and in Glasgow, the Commonwealth Games offers real and long-lasting positive change. It offers a chance to showcase our world-class tourism venues and engaging attractions; and announce to the world we are ready to welcome visitors not only for the Games, but for many years to come.”

The region will leverage the profile generated by the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games to boost the global reputation of Birmingham, the West Midlands, and the UK, as a leading destination for tourism.

A schedule of dedicated domestic, international and cultural festival campaigns will target potential visitors and the travel trade. A digital visitor information network will deliver targeted visitor information to improve perceptions of the West Midlands and its digital prowess, complemented by information kiosks in the region. A business readiness programme will train hospitality, transport and retail staff to become ambassadors and hosts.