Visit Britain hosted its flagship global travel trade event ExploreGB from March 1 to 5 virtually this year, bringing together more than 350 global buyers to connect online with 350 tourism industry suppliers and destinations from across the UK.
Travel industry buyers and journalists from 20 countries joined the event. More than 1,000 pre-scheduled one-to-one virtual meetings took place. Webinars and networking events were also among the highlights, along with sessions on major cultural, sporting and heritage events and exhibitions in 2021 and beyond.
“ExploreGB is a huge event for us and although we cannot meet in person this year, the positive of running it virtually is that is much more accessible for buyers, and also for our suppliers and destinations,” said Patricia Yates, Director Strategy and Communications, VisitBritain, as she spoke to TTN on the side lines of the event. “Normally, we use ExploreGB as an opportunity to take people around the country and give them a flavour of what we’re selling. We can’t do that this year, but we will be back.
“Travel is a people’s business and it is built on relationships – these are best forged when you are spending time together.”
Some of the UK’s largest and most valuable inbound visitor markets include Australia, China, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) markets, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA. Inbound tourism was worth more than £28 billion to the UK economy in 2019.
“Two years ago, you would have assumed that holidays are safe and you would just be focusing on enjoying yourself and having fun. That’s where we need to go back to”
– Patricia Yates
“London businesses are suffering – they are closed now anyway – but their recovery will depend on how swiftly we get the international travellers back. The domestic market goes to the coasts and the countryside but no one replaces those international visitors in the cities. As with most destinations during this time, domestic travel does come first, but it is really important to get international visitors back – our cities absolutely depend on them.”
This is where travellers from the Gulf region, with their undying love of London, fit in nicely. “The Gulf market is important to us and is an incredibly loyal market – travellers from the Gulf region keep coming back to us year on year. That pattern might have been broken last year, so we have to re-establish that. The real positive that we see from the Gulf market is the airlift. It’s really important to have the airlift if you want people to get to you. Can they get to you is the main question – with the Gulf that barrier is not there.
“Middle East airlines are strong and they have had quite an aggressive and strong flying policy through Covid and we hope that will pick up, so that we have that necessary airlift.”
Horseracing: Sport of Kings was the latest, and quite a promising, new travel product packaged especially for the Gulf travellers. It was part of the product development programme coming out of England. “In the immediate term – between six months to a year – the focus has to be on getting people back, getting the money back, getting money into businesses so that they can prosper.
“We are looking at rebuilding tourism, so getting the right product to the right market will be key. We are working very closely with our suppliers, packaging more effectively and through this collaboration we have seen partnerships like never before. People understand that no one company will rise above the other here, we all need to be working together.
“Our role really is to focus on the customer, what the customer wants, where we should be aiming and really try and build the industry back better, as our Prime Minister says. We are trying to build it back so that it attracts new markets in the future as well as satisfies the business that normally come to us.”
Up until Christmas, just before it went on the red list, anyone would have guessed that the Gulf market would have been among the first to head back to the UK. The flights were there and no major travel barriers existed, but just look at how that has changed, Yates comments.
“A lot of our agility is deciding which markets to focus on and when, and even six months out it is impossible to see for sure which markets it would be. You would think it would be Europe first, they are our closest neighbours, two-thirds of our international visitors are European, leisure businesses would come back first, but on the other hand, Europeans have a very strong domestic market, every country is going to be promoting domestic first. So, will Europeans come to Britain or will they holiday at home? The American market seems to be very keen and ready, and just waiting for us to open up.”
While the short-term focus is to get people back, a part of the government narrative is also to build back better and this includes returning to tourism in a sustainable manner. “I have been going to so many roundtables and meetings about this. Getting people domestically to come back to use public transport is a challenge, they feel comfortable in their own cars. Small things that made a big difference, such a single-use plastic bottles in hotels, which were being phased out, but with Covid these have had to come back. So, yes there have been things that have brought about a negative impact on sustainability, the question is how do we get out of that loop?”
A lot of work has also gone into studying consumer sentiment both domestically, where it has been conducted weekly, and now on an international scale to learn what people’s concerns are when it comes to travelling. These look into what are the drivers and the barriers, but also check with partners when and where are people looking to book, to understand the travel sentiment on ground. “What we have learned from doing this domestically is how nervous people were about travelling, just how much reassurance you had to give people.”
Earlier this year, it was announced that tourism businesses in the UK registered to the ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard scheme can now be automatically issued with the international ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The We’re Good To Go scheme, launched last year by VisitEngland in partnership with the tourism boards of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, has been recognised by the WTTC as meeting its international global standardised health and hygiene protocols and for its role in supporting the recovery of the UK tourism sector.
“Some 44,000 businesses part of the campaign, and it is great from international traveller point of view, it will be seen as a measure of reassurance to travel.
“Two years ago, you would have assumed that holidays are safe and you would just be focusing on enjoying yourself and having fun. That’s where we need to go back to. Tourism boards and the industry need to be doing all the housekeeping and ensuring safe travels so people don’t even have to think about the safety aspect. Holidays are about having fun and we want to get back there as quickly as possible,” she says.
Key events this year
THE UK’s official 2021 City of Culture, Coventry, is promising a programme of art, theatre, dance and literature for 2021. For sporting fans, the UEFA European Football Championships, rescheduled from 2020, will run from June 11to July 11, 2021. The Mayflower 400 commemorations, marking 400 years since the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, taking the first pilgrims to America, have been pushed forward to July 2021 from the 2020 Mayflower International Festival. The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow from November 1 to 12, 2021. The UK hosts the 2021 UK G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, June 11-13, 2021.
Wales celebrates its Year of Outdoors highlighting outdoor pursuits, sports and adventure, wellbeing and mindfulness – promoting the 870-mile Coastal Path (a continuous walking path around its entire coastline); its three national parks; 600 castles; its Outstanding Areas of Natural Beauty and Dark Sky Reserves.
Scotland continues its ‘Year of Coasts & Waters’ this year, highlighting its stunning shorelines, lochs and coastal traditions.
This year is set to see the completion of the full England Coast Path, the longest continuous coastal walking path in the world (around 2,700 miles). The RHS Garden Bridgewater, the largest gardening project in Europe, is set to open in May 2021, with a new spectacular 154-acre garden, transforming the historic grounds of Worsley New Hall in Salford into a beautiful green place for the local community and visitors to enjoy all year-round.
VisitScotland focuses on sustainability
EVERYTHING has been a little different in 2020 and the year has been defined by embracing a new way of living. Perhaps 2021 is the year to embrace a new style of holiday and live like a local – either in Scotland’s cities or the more rural parts of the country.
Agritourism has gone from strength to strength with holidaymakers looking to get their hands dirty down on the farm. Guests at Arnprior Farm near Stirling or Newton Farm Holidays in Angus can enjoy the freshest produce, from field to fork, experience farming life first-hand and, during lambing season, even help welcome the new arrivals – all while staying in luxurious, modern accommodation.
Equally in cities, 2021 is the year to discover the local favourites from quirky neighbourhoods like Stockbridge in Edinburgh and Finnieston in Glasgow, to stand-alone eateries and independently-owned boutiques in Dundee and Inverness. Now is the time to see the city from a local’s perspective, be it the gardens perfect for a picnic in Aberdeen, the family-run record store in Perth or the go-to coffee shop for a morning flat white in Stirling.
2021 is also the year to discover new stories; from the BLM Mural Trail to the Invisible Cities Walking tours, Scotland’s cities are showcasing voices that for too long have gone unheard. Art, history, culture, green spaces and mouthwatering food and drink, Scotland’s seven cities offer the perfect city break package.
2021 is the year of renewed tourism, as travellers embrace a new world view. Both visitors and locals love Scotland’s stunning natural environments and want to preserve its beauty for generations to come. Everyone can enjoy Scotland responsibly, by spending more time in one destination, using public transport where possible, choosing to stay in environmentally friendly accommodation, visiting off-season and committing to one simple rule: “Leave no trace.”
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