Passion at play
Britain focuses on the reasons behind why we travel
(Photo above: Andrew Stokes, director England for VisitEngland and Gavin Landry, director of the Americas, VisitBritain, at the 10th annual Destination Britain North America in Austin, Texas)
Moving beyond destination-based marketing and attracting visitors to specific cities like London or Birmingham, VisitBritain’s new I Travel For brand campaign focuses on the passions that inspire people to travel.
“It’s really about what is the reason for travel, what’s the motivation, what’s the passion for travel and why are people travelling? And then connecting that to the uniquely British experiences that we can offer that you can’t find anywhere else,” Gavin Landry, director of the Americas at VisitBritain told Canadian Travel Press during the recent Destination Britain North America gathering in Austin, Texas. “There’s so much to see and do throughout the whole of Great Britain and that’s what I Travel For really focuses on, and connecting that to unique experiences.”
Those who travel for Local Flavours (local food and drink), for example, can partake in Scotland’s gin revolution and even concoct their own blend of the alcoholic drink. Whereas those who travel for the Unexpected (adventure seekers or going beyond the icons and landmarks) can opt for a more adrenaline inducing experience like coasteering off the coast of Wales, an activity that combines rock-hopping, swell-riding, and cliff-jumping.
“We all travel for different reasons,” noted Andrew Stokes, director England for VisitEngland. “I think the key thing for me is that England provides so many different passion points and really the next stage of that campaign is about highlighting to people that whatever their reason of travel, whatever it is that motivates them, we have that to offer them in England.”
After conducting targeted research, VisitBritain determined different passion points within its 21 markets, with Landry noting that Canadians have a slightly nuanced view from Americans.
Beyond Local Flavours and the Unexpected, the other passion points Canadians travel for include Culture (art, museums, theatre); Meet the Locals (local people, living history, storytellers); Landscape (countryside, coastline); and Discoveries (going off the beaten track).
As for the Canadian market, which represented 835,000 visits in 2017, Landry told CTP it’s key to the destination, as they travel more broadly than Americans.
“I did the math and 1/45 Canadians travelled to Britain last year, whereas one out of 90-something Americans travelled to Britain so we’re capturing a really good share of Canadian travel,” he said. “The other big thing about the Canadian market that really does make it a good opportunity for us versus say the US, is we find that Canadians are willing to go further and deeper into the country. They’re also willing to drive, in many cases, they’re visiting friends and relatives, which takes them to places outside of London… so the Canadian market is really intrepid and we like that about them.”
Canadians also tend to stay longer than their southern counterpart, with an average of 10 nights compared to the average eight-night length of stay for Americans.
According to the most recent figures, 53% of Canadian trips were made through suppliers and 15% stemmed from traditional travel agents.
“One of the great things about the Canadian market is that 49% of them already travel to the rest of England,” Stokes said. “They’re not as London-focused as some of the international markets that we work in. [The Canadian market] is a very important market, and indeed it’s a market that over the next five years, strategically we see as having strong growth.”
Marking a decade
This year marked the 10th annual Destination Britain North America (DBNA), with 150 buyers, suppliers and media, including a Canadian contingency, on hand to take part in one-on-one meetings and attend seminars on topics like food tourism and evolving travel trends.
“Destination Britain North America is one of our premier ways that we connect the US and Canadian buyers with the UK suppliers that are keen to do business in the US and Canada,” said Landry. “DBNA has been going on now for 10 years, but we’ve moved it around location to location in order to attract a different set potentially of buyers.”
One of the suppliers participating in the show was Sally Everton, director of VisitDevon, part of England’s Great South West Peninsula.
“I’ve been coming to the show for the last nine years, and for me it’s the quickest and easiest way to meet a number of buyers, a number of journalists and get my message across,” she said. “I couldn’t do that in three months if I was doing that by myself in the UK, and I can do everything here in two days.”
For New York-based Stephen Nase, director of marketing, North America at Visit Wales, DBNA is the most important conference of the year for his market.
“I would say 70+% of my major key accounts are at this show, so it’s crucial for me to be here and get that message of Wales out,” he said. “Wales has been at this show for a number of years, and we don’t have these huge budgets; we rely on the people in this room to work together on smaller campaigns, and we use them as extended marketing tools.”
While his primary focus has been on Ireland, Denis Martin, travel advisor and tour specialist with TPI from St. John’s Newfoundland, has noticed an increase in demand for the UK in the last few years.
“As expected, it was an amazing experience. Extremely well organized, fabulous representatives and presenters, and an almost overwhelming amount of useful information,” he said. “Having made excellent connections with the people and venues I would like to include, I returned home with an inspired vigour to pursue tours throughout the UK for 2019.”
Meanwhile, Leslie Jamieson, group planner for Exeter, Ont.-based Ellison Travel & Tours Ltd., said she attended DBNA to discover more options for clients.
“There are so many unique experiences that are available, but with so many choices it’s important to establish local contacts that can work with you to find the perfect fit,” she says. “I look forward to working with the people I’ve met to create incredible memories for our clients.”
Of note, Keith Campbell, market manager – Canada & Golf, VisitScotland based in Edinburgh, said DBNA provides a platform to engage and network with North American tour operators on what’s new in the destination.
“The Canadian market, we’re finding it’s very strong for Scotland, and that’s linked to the direct air access we have from Canada,” he said. “They’re visiting not only the cities they land in, but also spreading out across the country, and having a really good, strong visitor experience.”
Canadian agents matter
As for the trade, Landry pointed out that becoming certified in the BritAgent specialist program not only allows travel agents to become well versed on what’s available in Britain, but it also gives them credibility, which, in turn, will drive bookings.
“If you have the badge that says you are a Britain specialist next to your name, you’ve gone through BritAgent, which is free to them among a lot of assets, that then brings a credibility that then relates to business,” he said. “Folks will look at that and say I trust that person, they’re rated well, and they have that badge next to their name.”
Meanwhile, Sheelagh Wylie, the first chief marketing officer for the Americas for VisitBritain, said its trade website has loads of resources for travel agents, including assets and collateral they can use for promotional material.
“We’re also working with wholesalers to add more product , so it’s beyond the gateways of London and Edinburgh,” she said. “We see in Canada it’s very important for us to partner with the trade because they already know who is travelling. By adding more options to go outside of London, but also these passion points to follow, if we have more product, we’re going to see more visitation.”
She also said VisitBritain would soon be announcing a new strategic partner within the Canadian market, which will include agent training and webinars.
“That’s across Canada, but obviously focused on Ontario, and BC, where we’re seeing almost 70% of our visitors come from,” she said.
The B word
With the announcement of a Royal Baby on the way from newlyweds Prince Harry and Meghan Markle coinciding with the conference, Stokes and Landry both welcomed the news, especially as the Brexit deadline looms.
Although he said it’s an important moment for Europe and Britain, Landry felt it hasn’t had much of an impact on the North American traveller.
“If the consumer is voting with their pocketbook at the moment in terms of how they feel about it, in the US and Canada, we’ve seen uptick in visitation,” he said. “In fact, we’ve seen 13% uptick from the US last year over 2016 and 1-2% from Canada, which were always strong numbers, over 2016 and that’s when the referendum took place, so I don’t think the North American consumers are really that affected by the notion.”
“At the moment, everybody is very concerned about Brexit, but until we know exactly the terms of the exit it’s very difficult to say how much of an impact it will have,” added Stokes. “Personally, I think whatever happens we will deal with it. I think as a country our appeal is bigger than just one thing like that and certainly, as far as the US and Canada, are concerned it shouldn’t impact in the same way. So they’re incredibly important markets to us, if anything they become more important.”
Similarly for John Turner, CEO of VisitSomerset, which is part of England’s Great South West Peninsula, with some uncertainty surrounding how Brexit may impact travel from Europe, the North American market is becoming even more pivotal.
“It’s really important that we look further afield, so things like the American and Australian markets are absolutely crucial to us, and our history and our heritage, I know, are things that the Americans have huge fascinations for,” he said.
Diversifying the product
Looking ahead, Stokes said VisitEngland is charged with the creation of new product and itineraries with the goal of appealing to more international visitors. A key initiative is the £40 Discover England Fund, which aims to drive inbound visits and spread the visitation. Now in its third year, he said some of the product is starting to become bookable.
“The reason for that is there’s a real recognition that London is one of the great destinations of the world. That’s wonderful, but with that comes a challenge that quite often international visitors will come to London and think that if they’ve done London, they’ve done England,” he told CTP. “And so the reason we’ve been charged with product development is to try and create product that will give people more reasons to travel to England. It’s not about churn, it’s not about getting people to go to the regions rather than London, it’s about getting people to come a second time or it’s about getting people to stay longer. Or it’s about giving people another reason to travel as well.”
Along with new product, Wylie said Britain’s popularity as a shooting location for film and TV, including an upcoming Downton Abbey film and a Beatles-inspired movie featuring Ed Sheeran, will continue to bode well for arrivals.
“We feel that’s going to draw people outside of London as well,” she said. “There’s a lot that’s going to be motivating people, so there’s an interest that I think is going to translate down to the agent.”
More than mushy peas
While Canadians are familiar with Britain, Landry said sometimes travellers have a few misconceptions about the destination.
“The word Great in front of Britain makes it seem like some vast wilderness, and while we are Great, there’s ease of travel throughout the country. You’re talking Edinburgh to London is four hours, two hours to Cardiff, an hour south you can be in wine country in England.”
Another misconception is related to the level of cuisine, with Landry noting that some may be surprised to find out there are more than 115 Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the country.
“Bangers and mash, fish and chips, while mushy peas are fun to have, it doesn’t define us,” he said. “We don’t want to be defined by mushy peas anymore.”
(Photo below: VisitBritain’s new campaign focuses on the reasons for why we travel. Seen here are VisitBritain’s Gavin Landry and Sheelagh Wylie, with Andrew Stokes of VisitEngland.)