Change: the late David Bowie sang about it, Gandhi said that “you must be the change you wish to see” and we all accept (deep down) that it is one of the few constant things in life. All of this is apt when it comes to the way that 2015-16 will be remembered. A year of changes. And changes bring broad challenges and opportunities.
An industry that matters
Tourism is worth £127 billion a year, around 9% of GDP, and incorporates more than 200,000 SMEs, with around 3 million jobs associated with tourism. The tourism industry is vital to economic prosperity: creating jobs and economic growth – even in times of economic uncertainty. The fallow period of the five years to 2014, when recession bit the UK economy hard, saw tourism jobs grow more than twice as much as other sectors. Today, 10% of UK jobs are tourism-related, and jobs in the sector continue to grow at nearly double the rate of other industries. Of the 3 million jobs directly attributable to tourism – many are in areas with few other major sources of employment.
Last year, 36.1 million visits from overseas visitors led to a £22.1 billion spend: both record figures. 2016 figures continue this record trend: with 21.1 million visits from overseas visitors in January to July, up 2% on the same period last year. As our fourth biggest service export, tourism is in pole position to build on this pattern of growth. While there is talk of trade deals with new markets, tourism already leads the way. Last year, US visitors spent £3 billion, while the number of Chinese visitors increased by 46%. Spending increased by 18%, catapulting China into our top 10 markets by value for the first time.
It’s not just international visitors that have delivered record growth. Domestic visitors spent more in England than ever before. £19.6 billion was spent by British residents on overnight trips in England (another record figure and an increase of 8%), while the number of domestic trips was 11% higher than 2014’s levels.
Last year, London saw over 18 million visits by international tourists for the first time ever, with the rest of England attracting over 15 million visits, both 7% increases on 2014. Growth in both the number of visits and spending were recorded in Wales, the West and East Midlands and the North West: demonstrating that the entire country is benefiting from the industry’s investment in developing a dynamic range of tourism products.
Backing from the Government has been vital. The Government’s Tourism Action Plan, launched in August by Theresa May soon after she become Prime Minister, shows that the Government understands the importance and significance of tourism to the country. Delivering on this plan will be a focus of our efforts during the coming years.
Industry growth built on partnership
Can British tourism deliver more for the country? Put simply: yes we can.
Collaborative working is central to our strategy to deliver an ever more appealing and competitive tourism offering for international and domestic tourists. Working as one team with the Foreign Office, Department for International Trade and the British Council, we will continue to deliver our inspirational GREAT marketing campaign.
We have also developed our strategic relationships with VisitScotland, Visit Wales, London & Partners, and English destinations, as well as vibrant commercial collaborations with partners including BBC Worldwide, British Airways, the Premier League and Sony Pictures. Through these, we will continue to inspire the world to explore the nations and regions – converting inspiration into visits; further boosting the economy and job numbers.
Our global network is a real asset for British tourism businesses as well as the nations and regions. It enables us to remain agile and adaptable to changing circumstances. In our key origin markets the weak pound means there has never been a better time for tourists to travel and spend here – be they from overseas or closer to home. Our short tactical campaign with BA in the US, mounted in just a few days after the EU Referendum, capitalised on this and secured record levels of media coverage at home and overseas with our call to action for Brits to holiday at home, and international visitors to enjoy the value and quality of British holidays.
Two major themes emerging from our latest market research are the need to reinforce the value message on the back of more affordable sterling, and underline our welcome. Both are being highlighted in our marketing messages and will form a central plank in our future marketing activity.
Last year alone, the country welcomed more than 4 million French and 3 million German visitors. In these markets, we are reinforcing our welcome messages through specific PR and social media initiatives to accompany our main #OMGB marketing campaign. We are looking to extend this to other European markets including Spain, Italy and The Netherlands. We will also continue high-profile activity in other key markets including China and the USA, where we will air TV advertising in partnership with Expedia
Longer term, the Government is keen to ensure that the industry’s priorities in terms of Brexit negotiations are heard and understood. The Secretary of State held an early round table on tourism with industry leaders, followed by a meeting last month of the Tourism Council where industry fed in to DCMS discussions.