TOURISM has remained a major contributor to the UK economy, accounting for nine per cent of UK’s GDP, and inbound tourism is its third largest earner of foreign exchange.
In 2013, the volume of international tourism to Britain is expected to grow by three per cent, meaning almost one million extra visitors will come to the UK. The 32 million who are forecast to visit could spend around £19 billion ($29 billion) while in the country, a record figure representing annual growth of two and a half per cent. The tourism agency also reports that by 2020 there is potential for the annual number of visits to Britain from the UAE to be 40 per cent up on the record year of 2009, which welcomed 344,400 visitors.
Speaking to TTN, VisitBritain’s chief executive Sandie Dawe says she is keen to enhance Britain’s image in the region. Excerpts from an interview.
Did you see a post Olympicc rush as anticipated?
What lies ahead for us is to sell Britain on the back of that huge image boost. People have often been asking what are the events lined up for 2013 and our answer is that Britain already hosts an amazing array of events ever year including the Wimbledon or the Edinburg Festival.
Of course the Royal Wedding in 2011 and the Olympics and Jubilee celebrations in 2012, meant a huge amount of media attention.
In a way, it is almost a relief to have the opportunity to sell Britain with an increased confidence as suppliers and buyers already know that Britain’s image has been boosted and that demand remains high. We have seen demand from the US; China and GCC markets grow and now need to turn that into visitors.
In 2012, we were up one per cent on visitor arrivals and four per cent up on spending and this year we are keen to achieve a two-three per cent further increase on both visitors and spend.
Did you witness a strong post-Olympic boost as anticipated? What kind of impact did it have on spending in 2012?
The issue is when you host the games in a city that is busy with visitors in the summer, you risk losing that market as people stay away, but what we saw was more people coming from January to May (2012), then it did dip a bit and then post Olympics in November, we saw an increase of nine per cent.
On the image side, I think we can easily claim that we are the only host country that benefited from pre and post games. The Nation Brand Index showed culture and sports going up a notch for Britain and perception of welcome going up three levels. Perception of natural beauty and country side also increased, which is great news for us. The coverage also went beyond London as people told the story of Britain giving us the chance to get the message out that there is a great deal more to Britain than London.
VisitBritain announced a growth strategy to reach 40 million visitors by 2020 – how are you looking to achieve this?
We are looking to do this in two ways. It has to be a marriage between marketing and policy. We can do the marketing but Government has to attend to some of the policy areas. In particular, we need to highlight the ease of access to Britain.
From the GCC, there have been no real issues with great connectivity with the regional carriers along with British Airways. However, in some parts of the world, like China, the access isn’t as good with a lack of direct flights and seat capacity. The visa process for a handful of our growth markets in the Bric nations is tedious and we need to focus on getting these issues fixed.
The industry is also pushing on taxation – air passenger duty and VAT, so there are some barriers on the competitive front that are policy related. On the marketing side, we will continue pushing the Great campaign, globally. We have already invested £22 million towards this and expect another £12 million ($18 million) to be invested, specifically towards the image campaign around Great Britain. We are focusing on 20 key markets around the world and the Great money goes into six of these.
We are also working with partners like British Airways, Harvey Nichols, Gary Rhodes for various campaigns and will continue to do more of these.
With the travel trade, we stage travel workshops getting the travel trade to sell more effectively. Our Brit Agent programme assists the agents in becoming experts in Britain product. We also work with the VFS Centre with a ‘buy before you fly’ campaign in markets including UAE, Kuwait, Saudi and Qatar.
What new and existing markets will drive these visitors’ targets?
China is in our portfolio of 20 markets and we will be investing heavily there. With three million visitors a year, the Americas is still our biggest market in terms of overall spend and we need to focus on holding on and rebuilding our American markets and our neighbouring European source markets. India has more potential because of air connections as well as visitor’s friends and relation-ties, being our biggest immigrant group in Britain.
Britain is a major beneficiary of outbound travel from the Gulf region with residents spending £995 million ($1,526 billion) in Britain from January to September 2012. In that same time frame, the UAE alone spent £387 million ($593 billion), a staggering £133 million ($204 million) more than 2011. The latest statistics show that visitors from the UAE are up nine per cent.
Post-Olympics, how important is Sports Tourism for UK market today?
It is important, in fact, I think a figure was released recently the value of sports tourism at £1 billion ($1.5 billion). People have been coming to Britain as a spectator or to participate in sporting events such as Rugby, Golf and football for years. VisitBritain has a marketing partnership with the Premier League where we have access to the foreign players and can use them to make recommendations in their country of origin.
We also host the Ryders Cup in Scotland, the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014 and the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015. The Olympic Park will also reopen to the public this year, hosting a World Athletics event.
What else can visitors look forward to this year?
2013 has been dubbed the Year of Natural Scotland, with events taking place throughout the year to highlight Scotland’s natural beauty. Scotland’s natural environment is the number one reason why people visit, and there’s no better time than this year to find out why.
2013 also marks the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, fondly known as “The Tube.” The first passenger trip will be recreated with steam trains, an exhibition of iconic posters will be shown at the London Transport Museum, and disused stations will be used for theatre and film screenings.
Culture enthusiasts from the Gulf can partake in the 200th anniversary of world-renowned author Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – one of the world’s best-loved books.
Those with an affinity for nature can enjoy the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show which marks its 100th anniversary this year.
Gulf families will want to visit London in 2013 to check out the myriad of theatrical performances that will be put on such as the new musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Fresh from directing James Bond’s latest adventure, Skyfall, Sam Mendes will be returning to his roots as a theatre director and taking on another favourite British hero: Willy Wonka.
2013 will also be the year for music lovers from the Gulf to return for Glastonbury, the iconic music festival.
Digital and social media were a vital part of your strategy in 2012, what’s the plan for 2013?
The plan will be to keep up that good work. We have over a million Facebook fans today, an Arabic-language digital platform and websites we well as Twitter followers. I learnt that there are 17 million tweets in Arabic a day. Arabic is the seventh popular language on the internet and Saudi Arabia has the highest number of viewers on YouTube in the world, so that is a very high level of engagement and will be an increasingly important way to reach people.
In the region, we have appointed Ali Mostafa, the internationally acclaimed Emirati film director of UAE as our Goodwill Ambassador to help raise awareness of Britain as a world-class and uniquely varied tourism destination. Mostafa, who directed City of Life, the UAE’s first ever acclaimed feature film, made a short film for us which features him walking around places he loves in Britain and he has a strong following on social media.
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
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