Themes, Trends and Tips From Destination Britain North America

Heritage travel was a major theme on display at this year's DBNA.
Heritage travel was a major theme on display at this year's DBNA. 

By Ana Figueroa

Americans are the life’s blood of British tourism, contributing $1 billion more than any other region to the UK tourist economy.  

There’s still, however, room for growth. 

That was the key takeaway from the seventh annual Destination Britain North America (DBNA) show. Travel Agent was an invited media guest at the Sept. 14-16 event held at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Event sponsor VistBritain presented the latest lifestyle-based research into the inbound market. And suppliers from England, Scotland and Wales offered programs designed to tap into traveler interest in history, literature and popular period dramas. 

RELATED: Destination Britain North America Serves Up Banner Event

Engaging the Market

“This show is all about engaging with each other and getting ideas. This is a catalyst. If people go home feeling they know more, they’re more up-to-date and enthusiastic about telling the Britain story, that’s fantastic,” VisitBritain chairman Christopher Rodrigues told Travel Agent.

That story is increasingly being told via social media, said VisitBritain vice president North America, Karen Clarkson

“Our role is to be a storyteller, to set the scene and tell a narrative. In the past, this was done through brochures and direct mail pieces. But now, the emphasis is on technology. The digital revolution is changing consumer behavior and expectations,” said Clarkson. 

Active inspiration seekers are a major psychographic segment in UK travel.
Active inspiration seekers are a major psychographic segment in UK travel.

Target a Mindset

Targeting those consumer expectations has become a science. Psychographics are the hot tool of the trade at the moment and they were on full display at DBNA. 

Clarkson presented some well-honed research about three types of visitors to Britain:

  • “Relaxed and Retired” represent the largest portion of the U.S. outbound market. Generally 65 plus, the segment is skewed female. Travel agents are their main booking channel. Buzzwords that attract them include “value,” “iconic,” “Best of Britain” and “leisurely.” They’re interested in fine dining, music and theatrical performances. 
  • “Active Inspiration Seekers” are evenly split, gender wise. They’re sophisticated sightseers with an above-average interest in activity. They want to be healthy and indulge at the same time. Key concepts that appeal to them include “up and coming,” “award winning,” “fresh,”  and “hidden gem.” They’re foodies looking for world-class cultural experiences, local immersion, gentle walking and hiking. They’re all about life enrichment. 
  • “Look at Me Travelers” want everyone to see how enriched their life is. Their goal is to start trends and impress people with what they’ve seen and done. 

Clarkson added that although the “Relaxed and Retired” category is the bread-and-butter of inbound travel, the other two categories show the greatest growth potential. 

New travel segments show the biggest growth potential.
New travel segments show the biggest growth potential. 

Reinvigorate and Reinvent

Tapping into that growth potential for a mature market such as the U.S. will take some reinvigorating and, in some cases, reinventing of tourist attractions. On that front, suppliers were eager to share new ideas, themes and trends.  

Here are some highlights: 

Castle Glamping: The concept of glamourous camping is not new. But, it’s taking on a new backdrop in Britain. Namely, historic castles and stately manors. Though visitors don’t get to stay overnight inside the grand properties, they have access to grounds and gardens. Accommodations include safari-style tents and suites complete with chandeliers, fine linens and freshly-prepared hot meals. Both Leeds Castle and Warwick Castle operate popular glamping programs; the former in colorful medieval knight-style tents. 

As Seen on TV: The unprecedented success of the TV drama “Downton Abbey” has sparked interest in all things British. That’s good news for agents, especially if they can include a taste of Downton in their clients’ itineraries. 

“It’s a fictional show. But if it encourages people to travel, get out of London and appreciate our heritage, that’s fabulous,” said Mercedes Picard, trade sales executive with English Heritage

Highclere Castle in Hampshire is the setting for the fictional Downton. Owned by the Earl and Countess of Carnaevon, it’s open to visitors in the summer. But the charming Cotswolds village of Bampton is accessible year-round. Used for the show’s outdoor scenes, tour operators are including it in a number of Downton-focused itineraries. 

For a real-life look into the Downton era, suggest a visit to Audley House in Essex. The estate reenacts what life was like for the kitchen staff, aided by a recently-discovered recipe book and diary of the head cook. Upstairs in the children’s wing, visitors can imagine themselves as young masters and mistresses of the manor. Rooms are even lit with gas lamps.

Preparations for closing cocktail party, poolside at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Preparations for closing cocktail party, poolside at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Centennials and More: A number of commemorations in 2015 hold big potential for attracting visitors. They include ongoing celebrations of the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. The Bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon is the site of five family homes operated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. New walking tours and exhibits include Shakespeare’s school room. And the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recently-expanded facilities now feature two theaters, a rooftop restaurant and bar and backstage area available for tours. 

World War II history buffs may be interested in events and exhibits commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death. They are set to take place at the late Prime Minister’s home, Chartwell, which is part of the National Trust; the Churchill War Rooms in London and Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born and proposed to his wife. 

Celebrations honoring the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary will include the simultaneous display of all four remaining copies of the historic charter. That’s never happened before and it’s only happening on one day: February 7, 2105, at the British Library. Six new downloadable Magna Carta Trails feature locations significant to the revered document. They include Runnymede, the Cathedral Cities of the North and Salisbury. Conferences commemorating the anniversary will attract scholars, historians and international bar associations. But even the non-academically minded will appreciate medieval fairs, festivals and community events scheduled throughout the year.  

British history aficionados may want to visit the three sites connected to the Duke of Wellington next year. It’s the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke’s London home at Hyde Park Corner, Apsley House, houses a magnificent art collection. Across the road is the Wellington Arch, a London landmark that can be visited inside for a great view of the Mall. And in Kent, a new exhibition will open at Walmer Castle, where the Duke died. 

Scottish Themes: Though Scotland remains part of Britain, it unabashedly touts its own unique appeal. Themed homecoming celebrations have been quite successful in beckoning visitors in recent years. The themes continue in 2015, designated as the “Year of Food and Drink.” “Architecture, Innovation and Design,” History, Heritage and Architecture” and “Youth and Young People” follow in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively.