This week I attended the excellent Annual Hotel Conference in Manchester, along with around 750 others from our sector. A high point for me was listening to Simon Calder (popular travel journalist of BBC and Independent Newspaper fame) who gave us an entertaining trot through his observations from around the world and some valuable predictions for the coming year.
My own task was to chair a panel discussion on tourism with the help of Ufi Ibrahim (BHA), Gary Morrison (Expedia) and Joss Croft (VisitBritain).
What became clear during the session was that our message to the outside world is over-complicated by the existence of not one, not two, not even a dozen but…wait for it…over 200 competing regional tourist boards representing Britain, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London, The Channel Islands and many of the counties and major towns which make up our small country. Each of them takes a share of the finite public funds allotted to the promotion of domestic or national tourism which itself is a good deal less than is spent by many of the countries we are competing against. Apparently our position in the ranking of most popular destinations has slipped to 8, behind Turkey, although it must be acknowledged that visitor numbers are growing and the spend by overseas tourists in the year to August topped £14 billion which is terrific.
Why do we need so many agencies competing against each other? It seems madness to me when an American or Australian looks at Britain on a map of the world and sees a tiny cluster of islands – to them we are a single destination.
I understand a big review is taking place before the next general election so they could simplify the whole thing and devote whatever money we have to the important job of effectively promoting “Brand GB” to the rest of the world. Don’t hold you breath, though. Politicians have a nasty habit of making things even worse when given the chance.