Roughly a two-hour train journey from London or Edinburgh, Manchester is the third most visited city in the United Kingdom with 19,800 Indian visitors to Greater Manchester in 2018-19.

Recently, Business Traveller India interacted with the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who was in Mumbai to talk about the India-Manchester relationship. The purpose of this visit was to build and strengthen trade, boost tourism, encourage investment and forge greater academic links between the two regions. Furthermore, The Manchester India Partnership (MIP) is also set to drive an economic boost of £400 million for India and North of England in the next five years.

Burnham stated that visitor numbers to Manchester overall from all markets were up by five per cent in 2018, compared to an overall decrease of three per cent to the UK as a whole. He also said that Manchester is the fastest growing city outside of London and a globally competitive destination for both business and leisure travellers.

We speak to Burnham about this strategic partnership:

What brings you to India?

Greater Manchester wishes to strengthen its ties with India not only from the trade point of view, but also from the cultural and educational perspective. There is a lot of history here, we have over 50,000 people of Indian origin living in Greater Manchester, and they would like to see the mayor collaborating and recognising the links with India, for the Indians form an integral part of the city too.

Tell us about your vision for the Manchester India Partnership

It is about holistically building on the history, the longstanding links and turning it into a contemporary relationship. It is a partnership of equals where we are learning, trading and sharing with each other. We are a tech-city and this country is full of the best tech talent. We recently ran a competition where we worked with start-ups and helped them relocate to Manchester. Another aim is to strengthen the educational links, study in universities and build the connection with Manchester right after. To summarise, a modern relationship with inspiration from the past and with that in mind, we also plan to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Manchester to promote his teachings.

Taking the Indian market into consideration, what are the efforts made by Manchester’s tourism board?

We have a lot to offer. Manchester is a sports city, renowned for football and home to two of the largest sporting brands in the world — Manchester United and Manchester City. It is well-known for hosting the six matches of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 at Emirates Old Trafford, including the historic India vs Pakistan match.

As a place it has evolved into a world-class location right from the restaurants and the airport which is undergoing a billion-pound transformation, to the skyline of the city — modern Manchester is changing by the day, with its standards constantly rising. We have a vibrant music scene too. Business travellers can now find hotels that weren’t there 15-20 years ago along with new hubs and upcoming companies.

What are you doing to improve air connectivity to India?

We very much want to increase the connectivity, so we are having discussions on high speed rail. We are working on connecting Manchester Airport with north, south, east and west through rail. Bearing in mind that there is a huge Indian population in the North of England, Manchester is much more convenient for them. We are in talks with few airlines to strengthen connectivity and enhance travelling experiences for passengers from India.

Tell us about some new strategies for Indian market?

It is about the quality of the Manchester experience; we did put a lot of effort into the Cricket World Cup. We are planning to increase visibility, especially around sports like football and cricket. We had a cricket event, where we invited an Indian audience (owing to the Manchester India Partnership). The partnership is really starting to fortify its reach now, so you can expect to see many more new attractions associated with history and cultural exchange. We may sign some agreements that revolve around the exchange of doctors. We have a programme which is currently running quite well where young, new doctors come and do their first couple of years in the UK. Most doctors choose to stay, so it’s safe to say that the programme is successful. It not only benefits our health system, but it also builds a class of Indian professionals who have a rather personal connection with Manchester. It opens up a cultural window.

Are there any efforts taken to simplify the visa procedure.

There have definitely been changes on the visas as called for by the people here, as they were formerly too restrictive. With the UK leaving the European Union (EU) there may be modifications in the immigration system that might potentially work favourably for the Indians. Currently, the norms are more inclined towards citizens of the EU. One of the concerns was that with Europe there was a preferential tendency towards its people and that led to a two-tier system of sorts.

Is Manchester focusing on any specific promotional/digital campaigns to reach the right audience?

We could emphasise on campaigns, but we tend to focus more intensely on partnerships like these. This is an evolving structure and we choose to not scatter our advertisements everywhere. Instead, we will try to be more discerning, create real connections, deepen them and build upon them. We will look at areas such as technology and healthcare as well and then see how we can further them. MIP is considered to be extremely innovative in the UK. If India has a preference for something, we aim to respect it and deliver it so we can allow a balance and let both sides thrive.

To conclude, Manchester is going through a rebirth of sorts. Although it still has a rich history, the old Manchester as people know it, has changed.