Promoting British tourism: a simple task made complicated?

Bodiam Castle

Visit England launched their new promotional campaign ‘Holidays at home are great’ last week amid a flurry of PR activity. Jeremy Hunt, the government minister with the bloated title of Secretary of State for Culture Media, Sport and the Olympics, kicked off the £5m initiative and declared it the biggest ever domestic tourism campaign. The star attraction of the launch was a 90 second TV ad; more on that later.

Yet amid all this noise there appears to be a distinct lack of joined up planning and execution. The press release proudly boasts that the campaign ‘is supported by the home nation tourist boards of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’. Perhaps it is, but I certainly couldn’t find any mention of the campaign or the TV ad on any of the respective websites. In fact I would be very surprised if the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish tourist boards were indeed enthusiastic about promoting a campaign that mainly involves English actors wandering around England, with only a cursory mention of their own nations.

Perhaps most confusing of all is the total lack of recognition given to the campaign by Visit Britain. A campaign that does mention England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might sit more comfortably under the Visit Britain umbrella, but no; not only is it the Visit England brand that is behind the campaign, but Visit Britain have not even publicly acknowledged its existence. This from two organisations that occupy the same office and share many internal administrative functions. Is this an oversight or a case of internal politics at play? I’m sure people in the know can enlighten me but to an outsider it all looks a bit clumsy and disorganised.

Isolated Church, Romney Marsh

Even when you do make your way through the Visit England site, getting specific information can be frustratingly difficult. As an example we spent a couple of fabulous days last week walking on and around Romney Marsh in Kent. I wanted to read about the area so took a look on the Visit England site. There is a ‘Places to Go’ tab, with a Rural Areas subcategory from which I could select Kent; so far so good. It was here that the trail started to break down. There was no mention of the Romney Marsh on the Kent page at all. At least there was a link to Visit Kent; I would surely find my information here. Another three links later (after much trial and error due to navigation that was as clear as the water in the English Channel) I eventually found a link to the Cinque Ports website – a name with which I had only become familiar after my visit. I had reached my goal. Sadly, the link was broken; my mission remained unaccomplished.

Why does any of this matter? It matters to me because I firmly believe the UK is a fantastic place for people to visit. For those of us lucky enough to live in any part of the UK we have so many nearby attractions to explore on day trips or short breaks. As well as my trip to Kent in the last week I also travelled out to the wild and remote Essex coast, home to a wealth of natural attractions and brimming with fascinating history. London meanwhile has an inexhaustible supply of new places to discover. Having spent the first 38 years of my life staying as far away from the south east of England as I possibly could and raving about how good the north is, I never imagined I would sing this region’s praises so much.

Promoting British tourism should be an easy task although judging by recent activity that is perhaps not the case. I’m not enamoured by the use of has-been celebrities trotting out cliches and slagging off other countries to try and promote Britain, but perhaps it works for some people; I presume they tested the ad in front of a focus group who gave it a nod of approval.

TV ads or not, it is a real challenge to persuade UK residents to explore their own country and not travel to places that guarantee more sunshine, warmer waters and colder beers. Surely the first step to success is for the tourism bodies, already fighting for meagre resources, to work together in their high-profile campaigns.


You can see the TV ad from Visit England here.

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Freelance travel writer

7 Responses to “Promoting British tourism: a simple task made complicated?”

  1. Really needed a spot in that video of the low lying marshlands of Norfolk… the video kinda felt like they were trying to tug at the heart strings of the public by rolling out our favourite brain-box, Fry Bloke.

    Better to have threatened to execute some cuddly barn owls in order to get the British public stay in the country.

    Last person to leave, please switch the light off. Energy conservation and all that…

    March 14, 2012 at 9:46 am
    • Cheers Glen – a barn owl or two would not have gone amiss. It does seem that for anything promoting Britain Mr Fry and Ms Walters are a necessary accessory. Wonder what the young folks in their 20s make of them? Are they as relevant to them? Or perhaps these ads are geared towards the oldies…

      March 14, 2012 at 9:58 am
  2. Interesting read but I am also very impressed by the photo of the church. Good choice!

    March 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm
    • Thanks Andreas. It is a beautiful church that we found last week in Kent. St Thomas a Becket, Fairfield to be precise. In fact the Romney Marsh area has several lovely churches, each with a fascinating history.

      March 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm
  3. Andy, I can’t get the video to run. Perhaps it’s not meant for French consumption? So all I can get is promotions around the theme “Holidays at Home are Great”. Almost an apologetic message.
    I’d have gone with something along the lines of “Discover England’s Hidden Gems”, no actually I’m lying very badly there.
    Perhaps “Serendipitous England” might get consumers to stop, think perhaps even look it up in the dictionary. Or go create a new English word with connotations like the “craic” or “hwyl” in Welsh to use in their advertising campaigns.

    March 17, 2012 at 10:35 am
  4. I totally agree with you. There are so many expensive state-funded tourism websites, each with their own little empire and budget to protect and each acting as if they are the sole “official” source of information that they sometimes forget to do anything useful for the tourist – their sole reason for being there in the first place.

    Luckily good private sector travel sites like yours (anfd hopefully mine) can do a better job of showing off the many wonders of a holiday in the UK.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm
  5. The confusion you’ve mentioned seems to be a bit odd for a country like the UK. Maybe a bit of independent marketing that attracts real enthusiasts could go a long way and create that sort of awareness you’ve mentioned.

    Anyway, what attracted me to this post was the beautiful photo of the fortress surrounded by water. It’s fantastic although I don’t know how people get into it to explore different corners of it.

    Rahman Mehraby
    TraveList News

    April 15, 2012 at 8:04 am