VisitBritain Directs its Focus North

visitbritain1All Images: VisitBritain

By Vickie Sam Paget

It’s been a successful year for tourism in the UK, with visitor records being smashed left, right and centre, but VisitBritain does not intend to sit on its laurels.

That was the message that’s coming across loud and clear at this year’s EXPLOREGB conference here in Liverpool, where more than 300 international buyers from 40 countries are in town to do business with more than 300 travel trade suppliers from across the UK and Ireland.

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The figures are impressive to say the least. “2015 was another record year,” explained Patricia Yates, director strategy and communications at VisitBritain. “We had 35.8 million visits, which is a new record and a four percent increase on 2014.”

Those visitors spent a total of £21.8 billion, and the forecast for overseas visits to Britain in 2016 is equally as impressive. VisitBritain is expecting 36.7 million visits in 2016 and a 4.5 percent increase in spending to £23 billion.

And Canadians love it, with 649,000 of them spending some £473 million in 2014. Data up to October 2015 shows that the UK witnessed a seven percent growth in Canadian visitors—and that’s set to grow even further seat capacity from Canada is rising by 13 percent in 2016.

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The big picture? The country is aiming to attract some 40 million visitors by 2020. But it’s not the usual destination of London that’s going to fuel this growth: it’s the UK’s rich and varied regional product offering—especially that of the northern part of the country.

This is a concept that Joss Croft, marketing director at VisitBritain, envisions quite clearly.

“It’s about amazing moments that can only be experienced in Britain,” he enthused, “whether it’s the roar of the crowd at Old Trafford or sampling smoked salmon in Scotland.”

Croft was referring to the focus of VisitBritain’s new #OMGB Home of Amazing Moments campaign, where the focus is on moments that can only be experienced in Britain—not just its destinations.

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VisitBritain marketing director, Joss Croft.

In fact, the figures for the first to third quarters of 2015 show that while visits to London are up by only four percent (with a three percent drop in spending), regions like the North East saw a massive increase of 23 percent (with a 14 percent increase in spending).

And the calendar for the next couple of years in the regions outside London is simply overflowing with unique experiences. The northern city of Hull will be taking centre stage as UK City of Culture in 2017, Scotland will be celebrating its Year of History Heritage and Architecture 2017 and Wales will have its Year of Legends in 2017.

2017 will also see the launch of a major film—Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur, directed by Guy Ritchie—as well as the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the 2017 IAFF World & IPC Athletics World Championships in London, the 25th anniversary of Barclays’ Premier League, the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter Books, the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festivals and the 125th anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes book.

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VisitBritain's chairman, Christopher Rodrigues, addresses the ExploreGB crowd in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral.

Yes, when it comes to unique product offering, Britain is hard to beat.

So who are the potential clients the UK’s plethora of world class cultural and sporting events? Richard Nicholls, head of research and forecasting at VisitBritain, had the answer.

“Holiday visits are up by one percent last year from 2014, VFR [Visiting Friends and Relations] visits are up by seven percent on last year and Business visits are up by six percent,” he explained. Both the Holiday visits (13.7 million) and VFR (10.4 million) figures set new records for VisitBritain.

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Gala entertainment in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral.

The main growth area has been in shorter breaks. Most interestingly of all—and a statistic that reflects VisitBritain’s whole ethos of promoting the regions—is that last year the regions out-performed the growth of the tourism powerhouse of London. For example, while visits to London increased by four percent, visit to the North West increased by 12 percent. In fact, 47 percent of holiday nights were spent outside the capital.

Add to that a 13 percent increase in seat capacity from the Canada to the UK this year, and it’s easy to see that more and more Canadians will be exploring well beyond London in the near future.

Next year's EXPLOREGB conference will be held in Brighton.

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