We’ve also looked at where we can add value across Britain by developing new products and distribution capability to the travel trade.
As well as providing a route to market for many of the Discover England Fund’s pilot projects that have bookable products, our focus has been on boosting or changing perceptions of what this country can offer in terms of rail travel and its food and drink. To make Britain easier to explore, we developed rail products that join up visitor experiences: from Highlands itineraries to five days in Southern England linking Bath, Portsmouth and Brighton. We’ve also issued best practice guidance and advice for DMOs, train operators and attractions – to make it easier for overseas visitors to travel that ‘final mile’ between train station and final destination.
We also looked to shift perceptions of British food and launched a three-year collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Itineraries for international visitors in four regional hubs highlight food and drink experiences that are on offer: from world class craft ales and gins in London, to a Scotland package that incorporates attractions, restaurants and the famous Speyside whisky region.
We enable British tourism businesses to boost and improve their export capability and appeal in a rapidly evolving tourism landscape.
Our popular international missions enable small suppliers to meet international buyers and build their export capacity and, last year, we took a record number of tourism businesses to China (one of the fastest growing international markets) and then to South Korea. We also brought hundreds of buyers to meet UK travel and tourism operators at our flagship ExploreGB trade show: With thousands of business meetings taking place over two days, and educational visits for nearly 300 buyers and journalists from 20 key markets, this helped businesses to improve their export capability and drive visits.
Our retail offering continued to grow: with 70 new products added and a new hub city approach which has seen bookable itineraries for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland become available for international customers and helped spread visits and spend across the nations. Overall, our online shop generated £2.23 million net profit: money that be directly reinvested in our marketing activity.
With the Government looking to attract investment in the UK, tourism can play a vital role in supporting this: particularly by growing business events for Britain and England.
During the past year, our event support programme gave vital funding for bids to win international events and to help existing events attract international visitors, as well as advocacy support. 12 events across Britain were backed, from marketing and advertising support to grow delegate numbers at events in locations such as Plymouth, Birmingham and Edinburgh to supporting Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’s bid to host the European College of Sports Science in 2021 which is expected to contribute £5 million to the economy.
We also launched a pilot event for the MICE market at ExploreGB, where 30 UK suppliers met and did business with 30 buyers, followed by educational trips, across Britain. And we continued to connect England event suppliers with international events organisers through events in Europe and North America.
Of course, we have a statutory duty to advise Government and industry. And in a changeable external environment, this has been more important than ever.
Post-Brexit vote, we have attended roundtables run by the Minister and Secretary of State, given evidence to Select Committees on Rural Tourism and the implications of Brexit for tourism and we meet with Ministers and officials across Westminster and Whitehall to ensure that tourism’s voice is heard. We have continued to provide research that helps British and English tourism businesses grow and develop: and we provide monthly updates on visitor numbers, consumer trends, and insights into preferences, decision-making and perceptions.
Of course, no mention of the year could overlook the tragic events that have taken place. At that time, we brought representatives from across the industry together through the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group and provided a coordinated, unified, response: making it clear that Britain remained open for business, and providing a coordinated impact assessment to Government.
I would like to close by thanking the new chair of the BTA Board, Steve Ridgwell CBE, and the new chair of the VisitEngland Advisory Board, Denis Wormwell, for their support, leadership and guidance. Thanks must also go to our strategic and commercial partners, destination organisations and the wider tourism industry, as well as everyone in the VisitBritain/VisitEngland team, for their hard work and support.
The past year has been a challenging one with many factors – from currency fluctuations to domestic and global political events and changing consumer behaviours – having an impact on how we work and what we do. In spite of that, the tourism industry remains strong and robust and I am looking forward to the next 12 months, confident we can play our part in creating the next chapter in Britain’s tourism success story.