IN a bid to harness more of the £16.7 billion spent by the millions of overseas visitors who come to the UK each year bringing even more of that spending power to the West Country, transport operator First, in partnership with the Somerset Tourism Association - one of the first private sector led destination marketing organisations in the UK - is launching an innovative, new, tailor-made tour package for group travel organisers.
Over the weekend of 6/7 August, First and the Somerset Tourism Association will be showcasing the tour package by hosting a familiarisation trip for key representatives of overseas and domestic travel companies to encourage them to book group tours for their own clients.
Taking in sights including Wookey Hole, Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury Abbey, the Roman Baths and Clarks Village, confirmed representatives from China Holidays, Russia Link Ltd, Elite International Travel, Flybe and E-Voyages will, along with many more, enjoy a relaxing two day break in the county. Those attending will also have the opportunity to meet Michael Eavis, who having founded the Glastonbury Festival, is already credited with putting Somerset firmly on the international map.
The group will experience the travel package as it is would be delivered to foreign and domestic visitors. Arriving in Somerset via first class rail travel (on board a First Great Western train) they will be met at Castle Cary station by a luxury Greyhound coach before they are taken on an extensive two-day tour of the region.
Commenting on the new venture, John Turner, one of the Directors at the Somerset Tourism Association and the person in charge of International strategy, says: “Tourism represents a significant part of the economy in this part of the world with more than 33,000 people in the county employed in businesses that rely on it. We are trying to raise the profile of our region further; showing the rest of the world what it is we have to offer and doubling the amount of tourism related revenue we generate over the next five years. In working with First we have managed to create a travel opportunity that allows tourists to get to the West Country quickly by rail, and then be picked up and taken by luxury coach to the destinations of their choice. This has significant advantages for tourists over standard coach tour packages, allowing them to cut their overall travel times making way for more sightseeing opportunities.
“The Somerset Tourism Association has 3,500 members and in working together we have managed to negotiate some phenomenal discounts for those people booking tours through us. This means that a group of 40 people booking in advance could enjoy a luxurious, tailor made weekend break in the county for less than £150 per person, including travel and accommodation.”
Adding, Maurice Duckworth, Managing Director of First Travel Solutions, part of FirstGroup Plc, says: “Bringing more tourists to Somerset will have a positive impact on everyone. It is particularly exciting that there has been so much interest in this trip from China as it’s well known that this market offers the biggest potential for growth in the coming years, and with an interest in British culture and British goods there is no doubt that in bringing more Chinese tourists to Somerset will have a significant, positive, impact on the local economy.
“On a basic level too it’s worth noting that in organising these tours we will be utilising the skills and resources of many of the local transport providers – in addition to the companies that First owns itself. This means that as well as bringing much needed revenue to local tourist attractions and hotel providers, we’ll also be creating work for many of the region’s transport operators.”
Minister for Tourism and Heritage John Penrose MP, whose constituency is Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset, adds: “This is a very enterprising move and I applaud First and the Somerset Tourism Association for their vision. By working together like this they can offer a quality package at low cost. It will bring tourists to Somerset and local providers - be they hoteliers, shopkeepers, tourist attractions or transport firms - will all benefit. In short, everyone wins and it’s very good news!”
Dragon’s Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne, who is also an Ambassador of the Somerset Tourism Association, comments: “I am delighted to see that the Tourism Association is making great inroads into developing a robust transport marketing strategy that will help to generate domestic and international tourism. Our Charlton House Hotel in Shepton Mallet will be glad to welcome a growing number of visitors to the region. The Somerset Tourism Association is doing a terrific job of marketing Somerset as a destination and hopefully more and more people will come and enjoy the area’s outstanding natural beauty.”