VisitBritain is ending the year with a bit of sunshine. The country saw a 3 percent rise in leisure travel during 2009, marking what is believed to have been a turning point in this final quarter for transatlantic travel to the isles.
“We’ve been down by a total of 7 percent for the year so far but now there has been this surge in leisure travel so we are focusing on that,” said VisitBritain’s CEO Sandie Dawe during an interview at the recent U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) conference in Banff, Canada this month. “It’s been a tough but interesting year over all but I think we are beginning to see a shift. Britain has been bucking the trend, possibly because of the favorable exchange rate for the dollar.”
The U.S. has been a top market for Britain, responsible for $1 out of every $7 international tourism dollars spent in the United Kingdom. And VisitBritain plans to cash in on the recent momentum with more products and outreach and more reasons for Americans to cross the pond.
Among the programs are initiatives to reach out to the gay and lesbian market with British twists on experiential categories that include nightlife, food, shows and events, culture, relaxation and fashion. Materials and messages marking gay-friendly spots and destinations for visitors are filtering through the website, visitbritain.com, as well as social networking sites and tourism magazines.
“We’ve ID’d the gay and lesbian sector, the affluent traveler and the youth sector and these are our strongest markets for 2010,” said Dawe.
For culture hounds with a taste for theater, a new Theater Passport is available for visitors looking for good buys on the best available seats in a selection of hot-ticket musicals and plays in London. Vouchers are available on the VisitBritain website for $33 per person and can be exchanged for seats at the Britain and London Visitor Centre near Piccadilly Circus.
Another hot item is the Visitor Oyster Card, which saves money and offers convenience in traversing the city by tube, tram or bus. Visitors can choose the card denomination based on how much public transportation is expected to be required and simply swipe the card when boarding the conveyance rather than braving lines, searching for change and spending time trying to figure out how to purchase a ride. And a trip via Oyster Card is guaranteed to cost less than the cash fare. For example, a ride on the tube that costs £4 will cost £1.50 with the Visitor Oyster Card. Oyster credit does not expire. The card is only available online through VisitBritainDirect.com.
“We give agents a lot they can package for their clients through the site,” said Simon Bradley, VisitBritain’s executive vice president for the Americans. His plans for 2010 include gearing up for the launch of the Olympics in London in 2012, which is the same year as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, plus overhauling the current website for a new look and launch this summer and launching a new Brit Agent program for travel agents this spring.
According to Bradley, the new online program will contain four training programs and will allow agents to dig deeper into the region with programs for England, Scotland and Wales as well as London. At presstime most of the particulars of the program had yet to be solidified and even the name of the program was not certain, but Bradley expected a mid-March to early April launch.
For 2010 the VisitBritain forecast indicates modest growth in visitor numbers but an increase of visitor spending by around 4 percent.
“We expect slow growth, but we also see a solid level of interest,” said Dawe.
Call (800) 462-2748 or visit www.visitbritain.com.