Post Coronation, GCC gets the crown
Hot on the heels of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III and Her Majesty Queen Consort Camilla, we spoke to Gavin Landry, International Director, VisitBritain, about plans for the Middle East markets this year.
“The biggest, most exciting development for me this year has to be the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), which will be launched in Qatar this October, and then a few months later, throughout the rest of the GCC.”
Come February 22, 2024 the new paperless visa system will replace the UAE’s current access to an Electronic Visa Waiver for single visits. The upfront costs will be higher, but at the same time, the ETA will be valid for two years, so it will be value for money for those planning multiple visits.
“The ETA will make travel a little bit more frictionless and so will certainly help boost visitor volume,” says Landry. “This is a great development since people will now be able to go the UK on a whim – you couldn’t do that before because your visa was tied to your flight.”
The Middle East is the first region globally to try the UK’s ETA programme announced in March this year. “Our primary focus is the GCC. Once there’s proof of concept here in the Middle East, we’ll start to roll the ETA out to Europe and the rest of the world. The ETA is about sharing information voluntarily – the way travellers are identifying themselves. It’s better for the traveller, it’s safer for travel and for the border force. It’s a positive story all around because it’ll be less expensive and you can go anytime you’d like for two years.”
While the pomp and pageantry of the official celebrations of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III and Her Majesty Queen Consort Camilla, may now be over, the festivities have motivated travellers to discover Britain’s royal heritage.
VisitBritain’s latest international consumer research shows the draw of Britain’s history and heritage in driving inbound tourism. A chance to explore Britain’s regal heritage is among the top sought after activities for potential visitors, apart from visiting its iconic cultural attractions.
In continuation of the GREAT Britain campaign in the GCC – ‘Spilling the Tea on GREAT Britain’– which is using a play on Britain’s love of tea to show visitors that ‘whatever your cup of tea, we’ve got it,’ VisitBritain released ‘His MajesTEA.’
His MajesTEA which was being highlighted alongside destination images of Britain’s history and heritage and its parks and gardens in the run-up to the Coronation and until mid-May.
A VisitEngland survey showed a remarkable spike in domestic travel during the Bank Holiday weekend for the Coronation, bringing an estimated £1.2 billion boost to the economy.
As Saudi Arabia announces two new airlines – Riyadh Air and Neom Airlines – and airlift into different gateway cities of the UK increases from the Middle East, travellers will be looking to explore the UK in many ways.
“When it comes to the GCC, we focus on getting people to stay longer; to visit us during different times of the year – in spring and fall – as opposed to just summer; to go beyond London; and to experience the hospitality of the people of Great Britain.”
Latest official statistics show that from January to September 2022 there were 586,000 visits from the GCC to the UK, with those visitors spending £1.5 billion during their stays.
The GCC is the UK’s ninth largest inbound visitor market and second most valuable in terms of visitor spending, when all six markets are combined.
Flight bookings from the Middle East to the UK have recovered consistently. When looking at May specifically, latest flight booking data from ForwardKeys shows that flight bookings to the UK are currently tracking at 95 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.
Landry shares some pull factors, adding that the warm British welcome is a top driver globally. There’s an emphasis on Newcastle, with a new direct flight connecting Dubai. With the football team Newcastle United F.C. being majority-owned by Saudi’s PIF, it is obvious that sports tourism is also a major pull for people from the region into the UK, says Landry. “Think Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle... People from the region are really into Manchester City FC,” which was also an exhibitor at the Arabian Travel Market this year. “We definitely want to capitalise on the sports craze because it’s a big driver for tourism.”
Another driver for tourism into the UK is popular culture – movies, TV, music – you name it. “People want to go where movies and TV series have been shot and we typically work off of that,” says Landry. “There’s a big Bond film coming out later this year – that’s getting a lot of attention.” The 67th Eurovision Song Contest, which the UK hosted on behalf of Ukraine, also took place successfully in Liverpool.
Accessibility and diversity play a key role in attracting visitors to the country. “We do think that Britain is welcoming for all [religions and cultures], and that we set ourselves apart from some other parts of Europe by being so inclusive.”