MOST retailers saw their Christmas trade hold up or improve as tens of thousands of extra people flocked to Bournemouth, research suggests.

But visitors said homelessness, aggressive begging and the cost of car parking were the factors that marred their visit to the town.

Research for Bournemouth Town Centre Business Improvement District (BID) suggest Bournemouth bucked a national trend of declining footfall and trade.

The number of people visiting the town centre shopping area during 2018 was up by 15 per cent on the previous year. That contrasted with a national drop of 2.5 per cent and a 4.7 per cent fall in visitors to coastal towns.

For the key Christmas period, Bournemouth footfall was up by a staggering 147 per cent between 6pm and midnight, fuelled by the success of its Christmas Tree Wonderland.

But even in the daytime, footfall was up by 32 per cent.

A survey carried out by the BID suggested the extra footfall did boost trade for many retailers.

Martin Davies, chair of Bournemouth Town Centre Business Improvement District, said: “We asked 75 retailers, which is a cross-section of the town centre.

“Sixty-two per cent said trade was the same or better in December 2018 compared with 2017. I think those figures show that whilst the high street is a undoubtedly facing difficulties and challenges, it isn’t universally awful.

“To that extent, retail is probably no different to any other business. If you can predict what your customer or clients are going to want and try and market to them, there’s business to be had.”

An online survey of visitors’ opinions found 52 per cent thought the shops were good or excellent and 87 per cent thought the choice and quality of restaurants was good or excellent.

But when asked what detracted from their visit, 64 per cent cited rough sleeping, 43 per cent said aggressive begging, and 59 per cent pointed to the cost of parking.

Mr Davies said the research showed visitors would be attracted by more events.

“Whether you like it or not, that’s what people coming into town said they wanted,” he said.

“The two things that put them off coming into town were the cost of parking and rough sleeping, homelessness and begging.

“These are issues that Bournemouth, like any big town or city, is battling with. It’s no comfort but these are national problems.”

The footfall figures are collected via cameras installed at Commercial Road and Old Christchurch Road by the national research company Springboard.

Another camera, in the Lower Gardens, spotted nearly 800,000 visitors in a six-week period.

The cameras found that the busiest day of the year was Saturday, December 22 – the first time in eight years that a Christmas date has been top.

The second busiest day was Saturday, July 14 – the day of the Bourne Free LGBTQ+ Pride festival. The third was Saturday, September 29 – the first day of the Arts by the Sea Festival.

Bournemouth Air Festival was in fourth place, although many visitors to that event do not walk past the footfall cameras in the shopping areas.