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News profile: Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain

31 May 2007 by
News profile: Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain

Christopher Rodrigues, the new chairman of VisitBritain, took over the reins at the start of the year. With the UK tourist board having recently announced redundancies of up to 80 staff, he talks to Emily Manson about the future

Is this the beginning of the end for VisitBritain?

Christopher Rodrigues I can't conceivably think of a reason why that would be true. Changes were needed in the business, and they had a head-count consequence, but it was not externally driven. We had huge print and production budgets which were no longer as necessary as so much can be done via the web. That's just business efficiency.

Is VisitBritain worth it?

Our grant is £35m. As a measure of our effectiveness, if you were to pay media rates for all the PR coverage we generate for Britain, that would be valued at over £600m. People do have to be made to want to go to a country, because recommendations and word of mouth just aren't enough. You have to create demand and aspirations so people want to visit. That's what we seek to do, are doing, and want to do more efficiently.

What's the benefit of an umbrella organisation like VisitBritain?

You don't want Scotland, Wales and England marketing the same thing and tripping over each other's feet. However, there's no such thing as bad press, so, while you don't want them all marketing their golf facilities in the same magazine in the same week, if you have something about sailing in England, mountaineering in Wales and golf in Scotland, it has a halo effect and generates interest in the country as a whole. The "enemy", so to speak, is not us. In this sense it's overseas marketeers who are competing to persuade tourists to their destinations not ours.

What are the big issues facing the UK?

Sustainability is a really important issue, and it's vital Britain doesn't get left behind in the inevitable move towards ecologically friendly tourism or we risk being demonised, like the airlines, which is not productive. We need to stress that if businesses do it right, it will not only help customers do the right thing but help their business make money. We have to accept that people want to continue to travel and encourage people to offset in the rest of their lives.

Infrastructure is also key. You only have to go to Beijing airport to get a serious shock. It was built above capacity - imagine that! We need to recognise we have to do something about our infrastructure to remain competitive, and things need to be built ahead of the curve.

What are your development targets?

A lot of people are calling for changes to the regional development agency/VisitBritain set-up. What's your view?

It's not about reorganising organisations - what's needed is focus, accountability and excellent skills. We can only win the competition for domestic and overseas spend if "Team Britain" holds hands and we all decide to do it better together - better than today and better than the competition. I'm not into turf wars I just want to focus on delivering value for the industry - that's what we're here for. When we do it right in Britain, we do it great. We just need to be doing it more consistently and continue to raise quality.

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