25 Feb 2011

John Penrose - we must sell Britain to tourists!

John Penrose MP Minister for Tourism and Heritage just prior to the launch of the Government's new tourism strategy has gone on record to say that “Domestic tourism is one of the biggest prizes for our tourism industry." However where we let ourselves down is that "As a country we are rubbish at valuing the stuff on our own front doorstep. We have got to sell it to ourselves and people abroad.”

Who is the 'we' that he is talking about? Tourist Boards, Tour Operators, Tourism Businesses like Hotels and Visitor Attractions or ordinary people? In part he's talking about all of them/us. And he is right - we are rubbish at selling the UK as a great destination! But for some reason Hotels and Visitor Attractions are especially bad. And that fact is very odd. These businesses work in tourism after all! This is their livelihood at stake.

Let's take Visitor Attractions for a moment. A Visitor Attraction should make every effort to sell their local area for the simple reason that it will significantly increase the chances of them getting more business.

The sort of customers a Visitor Attraction might be marketing to:
- Single people, couples or families?
- People who live locally, who are prepared to travel from outside the area or both?

Most Visitor Attractions probably want all of the above yet it is almost 100% certain that the Attraction cannot rely upon a totally local audience in order to survive. It is in their commercial interest to help encourage people to travel in from outside the region. If you are contemplating visiting somewhere new and you are bringing friends or family you will need access to information that will help you make the most of your trip. For instance, I might want to know things like:

1. Is there something else we can do whilst we are there? I like gardens, my wife likes art galleries and the kids jumping around in a soft play area - can these all be fitted into a short break?

2. Is there a great local gastropub so I can enjoy a quality lunch? Or how about somewhere to eat that will welcome my 3 young children and look after the whole family?

3. If I wanted to stay over where can I find details of local good quality hotels, B&Bs etc? Are there any  that you'd recommend?

A business should not be relying on someone else to provide this information e.g the tourist board, they need to take responsibility themselves. We all recognise that when we are trying to plan any sort of trip that it often takes far too long searching the Internet to find the information we need and we end up travelling unprepared. We miss out on the really nice lunch, stay somewhere drab and out of the way, spend our time in the area not knowing what else could occupy our time - and leave disappointed [perhaps never to return!].

Worse - we may not travel at all because in our long on-line search to find somewhere to visit it was too difficult to make a decision.

If I as a consumer have taken the effort to find the website of your Attraction [or Hotel] to find out whether or not it is worth visiting then it would help me, and you, if you gave me some visitor information about the local area.

If I ran a Hotel or a Visitor Attraction I would not take this risk. My website would properly sell the local area as a great place to visit, to stay, to enjoy. What these businesses should be doing is providing proper visitor information that encourages people to arrive sooner, stay longer, do more things and spend more money having a great time. The whole local visitor economy will benefit.

And this issue of us not selling the UK very well is a big problem. That's why John Penrose has highlighted it.
  • There are c200,000 Tourism Businesses operating in the UK. It is estimated that the combined website traffic generated by these tourism businesses easily exceeds 50,000,000 consumers per month [the number is probably far higher].
  • Research indicates that 80% of these Tourism Businesses websites contain no Visitor Information. These 'tourism' websites contain no destination content that would help consumers to plan their trips, inspire them to do more things, arrive sooner, stay longer and spend more money!
Visitors that are informed arrive earlier, stay longer, do more things and spend more money.

How do we know that consumers want this information?
  • 66% of consumers want access to Visitor Information to help them plan their trip [Frommer]
  • As many as 38% of consumers will avoid booking because the hotel website does not give them enough Visitor Information about the destination [Forrester]
  • John Penrose MP Minister for Tourism & Heritage says so!
These findings tally with VisitBritain's own research that highlights the market failures of:
  • Imperfect information – significant failures where both consumers and businesses in the visitor economy suffer from information gaps and potential visitors (both overseas and domestic) do not have the relevant information to use in their decisions
  • The free-rider problem - due to the fragmented nature of the industry, an individual business or a group of businesses are unlikely to market a place
This is a major industry wide problem. Consumers want access to Visitor Information, however Tourism Businesses do not provide it!
33 million
consumers are denied the
Visitor Information they need

What John Penrose is highlighting is one of UK Tourism's biggest problems. On a national scale this seriously undermines our country’s competitive position in both domestic and overseas markets.

We can not achieve the industry's growth targets unless this market failure is remedied.

I've been invited to the Conservative Party's Leisure & Tourism Seminar in London next week. I'm really interested in how the new tourism strategy will help drive the growth required for the UK.

I'm also hoping that our tourism businesses will wake up to the fact that this issue is costing them business and that there is proven solution that will remedy this problem and help us all achieve our domestic tourism targets. They just need to contact me to find out more.

John Penrose interview