Timeline - 1980 to 1989

The 1980s


  • World Travel Market opened for the first time in London at the Olympia in December 1980.
  • BTA raised funding from joint financial ventures with trade, local authorities and regions which for the first time made up half of its total marketing spend



  • men in wheelchairs sit around a table having a meetingBTA set up a small office in Singapore to strengthen ties with the Middle East and the Far East to help develop these growth markets.
  • BTA initiated action with trade support to improve travel opportunities for disabled people as a contribution to the 1981 International Year of Disabled People.
  • A new office was also opened in Vienna.
  • Campaigns focused on off-peak travel from near European countries, such as motoring holidays in the south of England, East Anglia, the north of England and Scotland.
  • A total of 116 different adverts were run in 28 countries and four multi-market areas - Middle East, Far East, North and West Africa, Central and South America.
  • A new separate campaign was run Taiwan, a new market for the BTA.
  • A new campaign, London is.. Free for Children, was run in Denmark with DFDS offering an adult to take a child for free to visit the UK who would receive free entry to 24 attractions. This resulted in 3,500 children visiting the UK accompanied by 4,000 fare-paying adults.



  • In 1982 50% of BTA's total promotional spend overseas came from trade or revenue earned by the BTA through promotional and publishing services.
  • In November, BTA organised the "Women and Tourism" conference which demonstrated new opportunities for co-operation in exchange visits, "Meet the British" schemes, reaching young people in language schools and introducing visitors to the local community.
  • Spa towns also became a focus for activity with a wide-ranging programme of activity to promote Britain's spas with the Spas Committee. 



  • A black and whit image of a couple sitting and watching the TVIn 1983 Britain received over 2 million visitors from the US who spent £784 million. This was a record figure, attributed to the success of the Come to Britain campaign, and its most successful year. Vigorous marketing in the region, as well as the strength of the dollar against the pound, contributed to the American success story.
  • During the year, new plans were put in place to introduce computerised information services on a global scale. Proposals were agreed in North America for inclusion in the SABRE system, and experimentally, with PRESTEL in a number of European countries. 
  • A new event, Heritage 84, was developed with trade as a theme for overseas promotion, encompassing anniversaries, events, festivals, ceremonies, cultural activities and Christian heritage, which received widespread support from trade and industry.



  • 1984 was the most successful year ever in the Come to Britain campaign, with all records broken as nearly 14 million overseas visitors (up 10% on year before) came to Britain, spending £5.3 million. Britain was earning more from visitor spend than some of the top "tourism meccas" including Mexico, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and was on a par with France and Italy. US visitors to the UK contributed to this growth and their spend rose by 31% on the year before, establishing the US as a "billion-pound market in its own right".
  • The year also saw more Brits holidaying in Britain for the first time, with 41 million taking a domestic trip of four nights or more in the UK, spending £3,800 (up 1% on previous year). Business travel by Britons also increased. 
  • BTA’s first-ever five-year plan - Strategy and Growth 1984 – 88 - was published to assist tourism planning and marketing by local authorities and the industry.
  • Vintage shot of two men dressed as heralds with the sign Heritage '84 on them and blowing trumpetsHeritage 84, BTA’s biggest multi-stranded international promotion to date was launched to the industry, designed to stimulate packages, exhibitions, trails and events and build on Britain’s ever-popular heritage appeal. 



  • By January 1985 much of BTA and English Tourism Board's re-organisation was completed and a new joint Head Office was established at Thames Tower, Hammersmith.
  • Heritage 85 took place with the participation of the Treasure Houses of Britain exhibition in Washington DC.
  • A new campaign branded "Britain for All Seasons" (code-named Operation Off-Peak) launched in early 85, encompassing literature, advertising and public relations. 



  • Margaret Thatcher stands talking to a man in a business suitPrime Minister Margaret Thatcher officially opens the new British Travel Centre in London, this time a partnership between BTA, British Rail and American Express.
  • US visitors dropped in early 1986, however, this recovered by the end of the year, making 1986 the second-best year for British tourism at the time. 
  • The role of tourism as a key jobs provider was recognised by the Government with the launch of its "Action for Jobs in Tourism" publication which was strongly supported by BTA.
  • The launch of all-weather leisure facilities such as Centre Parcs contributed to Britain's growing image as a destination for year-round travel.
  • Interest in new technology such as information services grew and the BTA organised the ACCESS UK conference with British Telecom. BTA also produced four home videos for sale using video-cassettes to meet the trend. 
  • The BTA continued to co-sponsor the World Travel Market, the world's leading travel trade event. It took place at Olympia London with over 35,800 trade visitors, 31% up on the previous year. 



  • In 1987, a new BTA initiative, BRAVO - a technology action group - received backing by trade. It presented plans for a travel industry-owned commercial company using advanced communications technology to link reservation sales systems used by travel agents worldwide for booking British products online.
  • Key marketing activities focused on restoring the traffic from the US, increasing visits from Europe, pioneering new markets and segments, and expanding business travel activity in Northern Europe.
  • Joint marketing partners included Burberry, Blue Arrow Employment Agency and Jaguar to help promote Britain abroad. 



  • First ever awards for excellence trophy in the shape of a lion with a crown on its head and holding a silver plaqueThe launch of the then English Tourist Board's first-ever Tourism Awards, the England for Excellence Awards. The first Awards ceremony was held on the 16 November 1988 at The Park Lane Hilton Hotel. A lion featured as the first-ever Awards trophy.
  • In 1988, record number of visitors were coming from Germany due to new routes being opened up in Northern Europe. A series of four travel trade markets were held in four German cities with 33 partners attracting 20,000 visitors. 
  • In the Netherlands, a "Discovering Britain" theme was featured in all print and promotion including an advertising campaign involving all five major ferry companies. 



  • The use of personal computers increased throughout the Authority, and work continued on the tourism database due to come into full operation in 1991.
  • A new major campaign in Japan, Ladies Britain,  aimed at Japanese women, meant the BTA worked with trade and travel partners to encourage more women travellers from Japan. A long-term strategy to promote Britain as “softer and more feminine” was part of a larger “Britain Welcomes Japan” campaign.
  • Business travel grew from India with twice-weekly Boeing 757 London service by Royal Nepal Airlines. Eight trade partners joined a BTA mission to Madras, Bombay and Delhi. Six trade partners went on a mission to Pakistan visiting Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, with a reciprocal visit by six Pakistani agents visiting London, Stratford and Birmingham as well as the World Travel Market and the BTA Travel Workshop.

VisitBritain/VisitEngland logo. Celebrating 50 years