There is no point in deciding you want to attract US/Japanese/Dutch guests to your hotel. This is the message from the British Tourism Authority (BTA).
But, of course, there is a reason. Nationality is almost an irrelevance - it is the age and income of the type of person you are looking for that matters when it comes to designing promotions.
Gareth James, head of brand management at the BTA, says: "If you think about it, a Canadian senior aged 55-plus will have more in common with an Australian senior aged 55-plus than perhaps a Canadian youngster aged 18-22. And once you know what segment you are appealing to, what they want to do on holiday, what kind of hotels they want to stay in and what kind of food they want to eat, you can do worldwide promotions based on targeting those segments."
And the product can be tailored to suit the market. For example, says James, with afternoon tea. If a hotelier discovers that the style of his property does not appeal to the affluent, upmarket traveller, then there is little point in retaining a grand, Claridge's-style service that will make customers feel uncomfortable because they are not dressed for it.
The BTA is holding marketing workshops around the country (see panel) in an effort to inform hoteliers about the database it holds and how it can help attract the right customers to your hotel. The BTA buzz phrase for this process are "market segmentation". James explains that this is something the authority has been working on for the past three years. It is now keen to ensure that as many hoteliers as possible, as well as other tourism industry suppliers, get involved. "Although we have done this sort of thing in the past, it has almost been by default. Now we are doing it more systematically."
In total, the BTA has carved up the whole world into 136 segments with about five to eight different segments per country. A good example is the USA, where the segments analysed on the BTA database include retired, 55-plus seniors - dubbed skis, which stands for Spending the Kids' Inheritance - or younger segments like the familiar dinkies (Double Income No Kids) and the 18-24 backpacking college student market.
With a few clicks, James can pull up on his screen a description of each segment and details such as the type of people they are, how much they earn, what they like doing on holiday, when they are likely to travel, what type of hotels they want to stay in and, crucially, how to reach them for marketing purposes.
Undoubtedly, the bread-and-butter market from the USA is from the "couples with no dependent children" segment. The BTA database describes them as within the older professionals' segment, aged 40-60 years, who have an income of $50,000 (£30,650) or more each. They already know quite a bit about the UK.
Of the total US population of 285 million, they represent a segment size of 480,000 people. Their spend per day in the UK is £63. They have no set season of travel and will take their holidays year-round. They like hotels graded three crowns and upwards, but they also like inns and pubs and will mix and match with country house hotels and bed and breakfast. Their starting point for accommodation is £50 each a day upwards.
A small but fast-growing tourism market from Japan comes from the "office ladies" segment.
The BTA database describes this as unmarried women aged 25-44, representing six million of the 123 million population. They are still living at home or alone. They are keen to travel and take their holidays mainly in May through to August. On their trips overseas, they like to tick off tourism "icons" such as Edinburgh and Stratford. When travelling, they like upmarket restaurants, heritage attractions, galleries, festivals and shopping for antiques, clothes and consumer durables. They love tennis and, in common with the USA baby boomers, they like staying in country house hotels as well as hotels graded at least three-crowns and upwards.
For all segments, the BTA will include comments on whether they travel in couples or groups, what mode of internal transport they prefer when in the UK, whether or not the segment is growing and, crucially, a list of marketing opportunities for how to reach each segment and how expensive it is to go about contacting them.
According to James, that advice could be as straightforward as encouraging suppliers to attend a particular trade show, or take an ad in a particular magazine promotion. More upmarket hotels may be directed by the BTA to look at joining its Jewels of Britain promotion in the USA, which is now in its second year.
"It may be that a hotelier finds the promotions that are on offer are too expensive to go into on their own, but if there were enough, the BTA may well corral a few different hoteliers to work together.
"Also, it may be that the hotelier prefers to do his own work overseas, but the BTA can still help because the more they know about the people they are trying to attract the better."
If, as a hotelier, you do approach the BTA for assistance in overseas marketing, be prepared to get short shrift if you go in with broad statements that you think your quaint country inn is "perfect for Americans". James comments: "That's rubbish. We get three million Americans - they can't all be the same. But unless you find out their differences, you don't know how to attract them."