The London Olympics 2012 could be a major opportunity for the UK to transform its image as an ‘elderly destination’ and to engage younger travellers who are interested in both participating and watching sports.
This was one of the messages that was delivered to delegates attending the WTM-ChinaContact forum in London last week.
“The UK is perceived as an elderly destination, with its main attractions being culture and heritage. Engaging younger travellers will make us more relevant. It is all about perception - hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to transform our image,” said Sandie Dawe, director of communications at VisitBritain, who was speaking at the event.
As the host destination for the Olympics 2008, the Chinese are becoming more interested in sport, which presents new opportunities to attract more Chinese travellers to the UK, according to Roy Graff, managing director of China Contact.
In 2006, there were 107,000 visits from China to the UK, spending £114 million. This comapares to 95,000 visits in 2005 when spending was £104 million. UK visits still represents only 0.6 percent of all outbound trips from China.
“We have some real opportunities, but also some real challenges,” explained Dawe. “The industry needs to develop an understanding of how Chinese consume sport”.
Main barriers are thought to be visas and cost. Other challenges include culture shock for Chinese visitors to the UK, language problems and standards of services in London, which are not consistently as high as those in some parts of China.
The panel of industry experts concurred that the UK travel industry must pull together to ensure maximum exposure leading up to the Olympics 2012.
Britain is a strong marketing tool and travel professionals should maximise exposure during the Beijing Olympics, according to Martine Ainsworth-Wells, Marketing Director, Visit London.
“Our presence in Beijing is also an opportunity to convey the sporting product that we have - we will be spending millions of pounds on marketing London in Beijing.”
“The industry needs to understand this—London has always been open for business and will always be. There are simple things that can be done to give us a better platform to deliver our message in Beijing,” she explained.
In addition to the London Olympics, there are a range of other sporting events and activities set to attract travellers in the coming months. One initiative that has been set up to help establish the UK as a sporting destination is ‘Events for London.’
According to recent research, golf and horse riding are the most popular sporting options amongst travellers. Additionally, it was revealed that families travelling are on the increase. In response to this trend there exists activities such as football training for children as part of a holiday package.
Travellers can now program a range of both spectator and participatory sports experiences into their agendas, revealed Chad Lion-Cachet, CEO of Sportsworld Group.
By Anna Gouldman