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.
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.