Cheshire's new marketing chief believes we need to find ways of charging people for more of Chester’s tourist attractions in what he describes as one of the ‘free-est’ cities in the country.

The new chairman of Marketing Cheshire, Clive Sykes, believes Chester is a great city with significant assets but needs to be much more valued as a destination.

He was speaking at the destination marketing organisation’s annual members’ meeting when he said: “It’s very difficult to spend money in Chester at the moment. It’s one of the ‘free-est’ cities in the country but there are attractions that could charge if the offer is right – the emphasis needs to be on a quality experience.

“Chester has a really successful economy and it’s a great starting place but we need to do much more to build on this and ensure it achieves its full potential.”

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Addressing more than 100 tourism businesses and organisations from across Cheshire, Clive - who co-founded Sykes Cottages, a booking agent with a portfolio of more than 6,000 holiday cottages and second homes and a turnover of £100m - praised the strengths of the visitor economy in Chester and Cheshire, but called for much more to be done to boost the economic value of the sector.

Inside Monsoon Forest, part of Chester Zoo's new Islands zone

He highlighted a number of success stories in the city including Chester Zoo’s addition of Islands, a fourfold increase in the number of visitors to Chester Cathedral over the last few years, the reputation of Cheshire Oaks as a national and international shopping destination and Edgar House being named best small hotel in the world by Trip Advisor this year, all of which are contributing to the predicted 20% increase in visitors to the city over the next three years.

However, he claimed much more needs to be done to maximise the city’s full potential, including capitalising on the 1.3m people that walk round the City Walls every year for free and looking at ways to introduce high quality paid for attractions around the walls, as well as reopening Chester Castle and improving rail links between the city and Manchester and Liverpool.

Edgar House overlooking the River Dee in Chester
Edgar House overlooking the River Dee in Chester

He also stressed the need to embrace the online world to maximise the benefits for Chester and Cheshire’s visitor economy.

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Clive said: “For Chester to continue to grow and maximise its contribution to the growth of the Cheshire visitor economy as a whole, we need to be much more joined up. I’m convinced we need a coalition of likeminded and determined individuals to put the city firmly in the Heritage City premier league.

“We need more people spending more time and more money in the city and to do this we need to make it easier to come here and this means better rail services, more parking and better accessibility around the city.”