With 100 days to go until the London Olympics 2012, excitement is mounting as London prepares to welcome the world for The Games - an event which VisitBritain hopes will attract 4 million extra visitors, spending £2.3bn over the next four years.
Breaking Travel News sits down with Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain at the WTTC Summit in Japan, to find out the facts about London hotel occupancy levels, how London’s infrastructure will cope with the expected surge in visitors and whether VisitBritain’s £125 million marketing campaign looks set to create a lasting tourism legacy for Britain.
Breaking Travel News: How has British tourism performed so far in 2012?
Christopher Rodrigues: Over the last twelve months to February the volume of visits has increased by 1.2 million compared to the twelve months to February 2011, generating £18bn of spending in the UK, an increase of 7% before adjusting for inflation. January was up 11% for both visits and spend from the previous January
2011 as a year was saw record levels for spend and holiday visits.
BTN: Have your global marketing efforts been paying off?
CR: Although there are many challenges to be faced this year, any uncertainty in 2012 will be largely offset by the increase in VisitBritain’s GREAT activity in key inbound markets. We are looking to build on the vast profile our country will receive in 2012 and use these opportunities to increase visitor numbers in the years ahead, where we will be showcasing the UK around the biggest stage of them all. We also believe that our GREAT campaign will help generate 50,000 new job opportunities across the UK.
The Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations will undoubtedly generate enormous amounts of positive PR for Britain, broadcasting our country across the world for billions of potential visitors to see. Our aim is to ensure we create a lasting tourism legacy from hallmark events such as these, capitalising on the interest they create globally and driving more tourism business to Britain.”
BTN: Can you tell me more about the role that VisitBritain is playing around the Olympics 2012 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee?
VisitBritain will look to promote the locations associated with both the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Key locations for both include- London, Weymouth (sailing), Windsor (rowing), Hampden (Olympic football), Cardiff (Olympic football)
Through our £125million marketing campaign we will seek to create a real legacy for British tourism which will last for many years to come.
The Olympics and Diamond Jubilee will have a global audience of billions. We are working hard with international broadcasters from all our key source markets to make sure they capture all that is great about Britain and broadcast it around the world to inspire travel.
BTN: What role did the royal wedding play for tourism in 2011?
The Royal Wedding offered us the perfect platform to promote Britain overseas. Not only did it give us a good opportunity to promote our royal heritage (worth £500m a year to the UK economy) but it also gave the public a new couple to admire and fall in love with again.
IPS figures for June, July and August saw records for both visits and spend. We can’t know for sure if it was all down to the Royal Wedding, however it certainly would have played a part in showcasing Britain to global audiences across the world.
BTN: What are your expectations for the Diamond Jubilee?
The Diamond Jubilee will see millions of people over four days (both domestic and international) joining together and celebrating the Queen’s 60th anniversary. We don’t particularly expect a huge surge in visitors to Britain but the world will see that we can put on a great party and it will inspire many to book their next holiday in Britain.
BTN: How full is London going to be during the Olympic Games?
London will not be full during Games time. We have the transport infrastructure in place to deal with large events in London along with the experience of hosting huge sporting and cultural celebrations in the capital without any issues.
For example: The London Marathon attracts 1 million people to London each and every year without any trouble. Over 1 million people also took to the streets of central London to celebrate the Royal Wedding in 2011.
London Hotel occupancy during the summer months is never more than 80%. Therefore there is a 20% surplus which we can look to fill on-top of all the new hotels opening up in 2012.
BTN: Are more hotel rooms becoming available as we get closer to the games? How are you reassuring potential visitors that there will be accommodation available?
LOCOG has recently released 20% of rooms which had been blocked. This calculates to roughly 120,000 room nights being made available.
LOCOG’s commitment to free up any surplus rooms shows that it recognises the vital role that the tourism industry has to the overall success of the Games. This is an important and timely boost for the sector There are 140,000 hotels rooms available in London already.
BTN: To what extent is social media an important channel for VisitBritain? In what ways are you tapping into this medium?
For VisitBritain, the use of our Love UK group, as well as our other social media channels, sits as part of integrated destination marketing that aims to provide inspiring content to a global audience that is relevant to their personal stage in the ‘consideration journey’
On Twitter, @VisitBritain has been recognized as the World’s Most Influential Tourist Board account. By using social media monitoring tools, we track the reach and engagement of our Tweets, and we have also established relationships with some of the world’s most influential travel bloggers who have massive reach on Twitter to blog and tweet VisitBritain content.
Love UK places engagement at the heart of our strategy. Using highly-engaging apps such as our Royal Wedding Predictor or Harry Potter Competition and a schedule of regular relevant posts, we strive to constantly improve our engagement levels. Engagement does not just sit on Facebook. Our Top 50 App aims to bring the Facebook check-in service into enhancing the visitor experience on mobile devices, ensuring the engagement we develop through Facebook can then be enjoyed as a part of the tourist experience.
BTN: What else is in store from VisitBritain in 2012? Where will you be focusing your efforts over the next few years?
The GREAT Britain campaign is a four year overseas programme. We can’t just stop all activity after 2012 and expect tourists to come to Britain.
After the Games have finished is when our work really begins. Using our tactical partners to offer deals via their channels will help facilitate and inspire more travel to Britain for many years to come creating a legacy for the inbound industry.