What Next for the UK Tourism Industry?

On the River Thames

Is ours an industry whose time has finally come? Or are we still rooted somewhere in a murky past, with odd opening hours, exhibits roped off and strange food?

The past three years have not only seen huge changes in the way consumers access leisure and make their choices, but how suppliers have responded. The public sector has also taken a battering with funding cuts and re-structuring, up and down the land. All this, culminating in the 2012 summer to remember. It seemed fitting therefore, to be holidaying at home and I have had immense pleasure experiencing my local tourism offer.

Before leaving home, I consulted websites, newspapers, twitter, even bought a guidebook – and set off on my road trip feeling woefully unprepared. Note to self: don’t rely on a Greater London Atlas when exploring England.

I visited a number of destinations, market towns, heritage sites, visitor attractions, festivals and sporting events in the English north east, south west and south east: cooked my own, dined out, stayed in hotels, self catered, glamped and camped.

To say that I have experienced many levels of tourism service in my career would be an understatement, and what I experienced this summer was amazing!  Innovation, service and creativity, in abundance. From the mundane to the most whimsical, the ‘product’ is in excellent shape! Fresh, unexpected, added value, excellent interpretation, great efforts to be family-friendly and clean toilets now the norm.

This country boasts a myriad of heritage sites, that are not only open and well managed, but easy to explore. From magnificent cathedrals, to seaside towns, where products are not islands, but link to other parts of the destination with well-signposted and accessible routes and its up to you to provide the imagination and camera to share it all.

These were revelations along the way;

  • We have Waitrose and M&S looking after our culinary needs at the humble motorway services. What’s not to like?
  • A major hotel chain whose marketing campaign actually matches reality.
  • A supply of piped hot water to a field of campers to wash dishes (or themselves), was a delight! I don’t know how complicated it is to deliver, but how thoughtful. I have no idea if I was paying extra, but I didn’t care.
  • A no-hassle receptionists’ attitude when faced with bicycles that needed (unbooked) overnight storage.
  • A new glamping market entrant who has seized this consumer trend and added bucket-loads of innovation and memorable service.
  • An accommodation establishment that sells the destination first, by sharing their local knowledge and amazing attention to detail. You want to go there.
  • A national organisation with a local touch, with effortless presentation and much fun had over a pile of old Roman stones.
  • Beautiful, unspoilt beaches, perfect for walking, swimming and exploring the rock pools for unsuspecting crabs.
  • A traditional Punch & Judy show on a beach – so unashamedly old fashioned, and so British.
  • Smaller accommodation suppliers supporting local food producers with imaginative ways of selling and promoting both food and crafts.

The common thread through all of this is that these predominately private sector operators have a passion and love for what they do. It shows! They also have ‘got it’ – innovation, slick communication, product development and responsive customer service.  This combines into a memorable feast of experiences.

Before some of you think I have lost my marbles, not everything I experienced could be included in the above-mentioned post-trip glow. Some tourism organisations (or DMO’s as they used to be called), that I encountered along the way annoyed and irritated with their poor communication and lack of understanding of how consumers research and access information. Perhaps they are caught in the headlights? Perhaps they never leave the office, finding it easier to give only their points of view in a ‘shouty, we know best’ sort of way. What they don’t realise is that many national media outlets have excellent travel sections now, with up to date and under-the-skin travel reviews, destination spotlights and new ideas that keep pace with trends. This calls into question the value some tourism organisations can offer in this sophisticated industry.

I am of the humble opinion that the UK does tourism very well. Products and services are keeping pace with changing consumer demands and we work in an industry that has finally, come of age. No longer the haunt of cobwebs and a musty-dusty image, we should be very proud of the collective response to massive change.

I look forward to what the future holds.

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