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The home front needs its own sales offensive

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The news that the industry is to benefit from a major new Government-backed campaign to boost the number of overseas visitors to the UK – in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak and the events of 11 September – is to be applauded. It’s a great start, and one that could see as many as one million extra visitors arrive in a year that holds the marketing golden egg of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the opportunities this presents to stress national heritage and culture.

Full marks, therefore, to the hospitality operators that have led this move. By keeping up pressure on Government, they have won £20m of new Treasury money to raise Britain’s profile overseas. And by offering their own money as part of the deal, these operators have also demonstrated a real commitment to their cause – that of boosting tourism in Britain.

But look at the bigger picture and it becomes apparent that this campaign is just the beginning. An injection of cash is a great start in attracting visitors from the seven overseas markets where the campaign’s impact will be felt. But, from a wider perspective, it serves to highlight the desperate need for a similar focus on the domestic market.

It also acts as a timely reminder that, when the English Tourist Board was renamed the English Tourism Council (ETC) in 1999, its marketing remit was taken away. Since then, there has been no national marketing organisation promoting England to domestic visitors, and such marketing has been done through the regional tourist boards in liaison with the regional development agencies. (In Scotland and Wales, meanwhile, national tourist authorities have a marketing brief and budget.)

It’s high time this decision was reversed. International visitors are highly important but they are only part of the business jigsaw, and it is the domestic market that often makes up the bread-and-butter of the hospitality industry, especially in traditional holiday areas. As the events of last year fade into memory, the fear is that the domestic market will again go overseas, so now is the time to think about keeping that business at home.

What is needed is a structure within the ETC with real power and money to market England to the domestic market. And if any more proof is needed that a concerted marketing effort pays dividends, then Edinburgh is a good example. Hoteliers there are reporting their best December occupancy figures in 10 years, largely as a result of collaborative marketing by the local tourist board, the city council, visitor attractions and retailers, attracting domestic as well as overseas visitors.

In fairness, both the Secretary of State for culture, media and sport, Tessa Jowell, and Tourism Minister Kim Howells have publicly acknowledged the need for a bespoke marketing function for England, and have admitted that getting rid of it in the first place was a mistake. Fine, but mistakes need to be put right. Business recovery may be patchy in places, but patterns are beginning to emerge that suggest that there is some light on the horizon. Now is the time to build on that, both at home and away.

Jenny Webster
Deputy editor
Caterer & Hotelkeeper

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