|Dumbledore’s office is one of the sets from the Harry Potter movie series that fans can now see in person when they visit England.|
Representatives from England, Scotland and Wales presented destination highlights and news during VisitBritain’s Hosted Buyers Marketplace in London in March. Travel Agent was there along with 180 buyers from 20 countries who conducted more than 5,700 appointments over two days. With nearly 12 million visitors, 2011 was a record year for international tourism to Britain, according to Keith Beecham, VisitBritain’s director - overseas network.
With the Olympics, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and commemorations of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, expectations are that international visits will more than triple in 2012. North America is the top inbound market after Europe, and VisitBritain has launched a global $41 million image campaign to promote all the excitement happening in 2012.
Topping new attractions for visitors in London and beyond, according to Anke Monestel, head of international operations, VisitEngland, is a massive new Warner Bros. Studio Tour London that provides a great opportunity to explore the magic of the Harry Potter films. For the first time ever, fans can see the model of Hogwarts Castle used in the first film, plus many of the iconic sets from all the films. The studio is about 20 miles from London and tickets must be pre-booked online or via a tour operator.
Kensington Palace has just reopened after a year’s closure and a $19 million renovation. Highlights include an exhibit on Queen Victoria; a tour through the State Apartments of William and Mary; and a small display of the dresses of Princess Diana. Everything is very interactive and designed to engage children, who for the first time are admitted for free with a paying adult.
Farther north in England, The Great Stones Way is a new 45-mile walking path between the World Heritage Sites of Avebury and Stonehenge. The latter is undergoing a four-year redevelopment that will include a visitor center, a museum and a train to bring visitors to the site.
For the first time, the Royal Horticultural Society, the group that puts on the famous Chelsea Flower Show among others, is developing a program to work with travel agents on selling garden tours that will roll out in 2013.
Linda McAllister and Lindsay Symington of VisitScotland revealed exciting news—this summer Disney/Pixar is releasing Brave, a 3D animated feature that takes place in the Highlands of Scotland, weaving in Scottish lore and legends, with an all-Scottish cast. VisitScotland is anticipating a huge interest in Scotland from the family market, which it did not target before, and is working closely with Disney on promotions.
The Edinburgh Festivals Passports, a great way for clients to sample the festival, are now available for 2012. For purchase by the trade only, starting at $71, the passports include guaranteed seats at three top shows, plus guides, discounts and more.
Two substantial museum refurbishments in Edinburgh: the Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopened in December following a $29 million restoration that increased public space by more than 60 percent. The National Museum of Scotland reopened last year after a three-year, $77 million redevelopment. The museum is home to 20,000 objects over 36 galleries. The Edinburgh Zoo welcomed two new pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, in December. The Panda Experience is part of the zoo entrance fee; however, specific viewing time slots must be booked ahead of time.
On the hotel front, the historical 241-room Caledonian Hilton in Edinburgh is undergoing a $39 million renovation and will officially reopen as The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel on September 1, 2012.
Glasgow has redeveloped the area by the River Clyde, most notably opening the strikingly modern Riverside Museum housing a vast display of transport and technology innovations.
Wales is soon to become the only country in the world to have a footpath along its entire coastline, says Clare Dwight of Visit Wales. May 5, 2012 will mark the completion of the 870-mile Wales Coast Path, a walking route from Chepstow in the south to Queensferry in the north, going through 11 National Nature Reserves.
Cardiff also has a new watersports center, Cardiff International White Water, where enthusiasts can try everything from whitewater rafting to hot dogging. The Pont-cysyllte Aqueduct, an 11-mile canal that first opened in 1805, was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course, Wales must boast of its current royal connection, the home of Prince William and Princess Kate in Anglesey—an island off the coast, a great destination for enjoying the outdoors and a chance to spot the royals.