The London Olympics (which are actually being held throughout the UK, but we won't quibble about semantics) are a week old now, and so far, VisitBritain is pleased with how the destination is being presented in international media.
“The opening ceremony provided a stunning advertisement for Britain,” Karen Clarkson, vice president, North America for VisitBritain told Travel Agent. “What’s interesting is that depending on which part of the ceremony [viewers] liked most, there’s a part of Britain to visit.” The hill from which Kenneth Branagh recited from Shakespeare’s The Tempest represents Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. The spoof of Chariots of Fire, with Rowan Atkinson repeating his popular Mr. Bean character, was filmed on West Sands beach in St. Andrews, Scotland. Or they can ride down the Thames like David Beckham, or even hire a helicopter for skydiving like James Bond and Her Majesty.
And while London has been in the spotlight, events have been held all throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Clarkson feels that the other cities are getting a good amount of attention as well, especially from soccer fans eager to experience Manchester (home of Manchester United and several games throughout the Olympics). Manchester, Clarkson notes, is one of the top five cities visited in UK.
Cardiff and the Coastal Path in Wales has also seen increased interest, she added.
And while it’s too early yet to tell the overall visitor numbers to London and the other participating cities, London’s hotel rooms are reporting 85 percent occupancy rates, and have reportedly lowered prices to attract last-minute visitors. “It’s availability based,” Clarkson says. “People forget that we have 130,000 hotel rooms, not including bed-and-breakfasts and other venues. It’s great that they’re 85 percent full, but it means there’s capacity for more.” In terms of long-term booking trends, Clarkson says that the fall and winter are already looking positive, and that 2013 may see as much as double-digit growth.
Clarkson believes that London’s hotel development will help the city in the long run, especially since much of the growth was in the three- and four-star category. “The increased room stock means that London can invite more conventions,” she says. To that end, she says that city tourism board London & Partners has already seen an increase in requests for proposals for the first six months of 2013.
To keep the momentum up, VisitBritain is reaching out to the travel professional community. “We’re hosting the World Travel Leaders Summit in UK right now,” she says, adding that industry players like Globus & Europe Express are there. “The key for us is increasing volume…We’re hoping that with interest in Britain, we’ll get more interest that should generate inquiries. There’s a 2012 module on BritAgent.com that highlights experiences. We’re relying on agency communication.
“The whole opportunity around the Olympics is to create worldwide buzz," she continued. "It’s the biggest TV commercial for Britain.”
Photograph courtesy of VisitBritain and copyright 1080 Media.