The Middle East is now discovering that there is more to England than just London, with -yet-unexplored areas such as Manchester, Blackpool and Lake District garnering a lot of interest from the Arab tourist.
The quaint North English countryside holds untold promise for the Arab traveller – the sea and sand are of a different hue. Leisurely nature walks and greenery aside, cities like Liverpool and Manchester are visited for their football culture.
The clubs are so popular in the Middle East that Middle Eastern investors are constantly looking at them as investments. Translate the hype into numbers and according to Peter Dodd, marketing director, England’s North Country, the figure is around 25,000 visitors in 2005, from the UAE alone, who spend around of £15 million pounds ($30.03 million).
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Jane Seddon, director of tourism, Blackpool Tourist Board, who has been visiting the UAE for over a decade told TTN: “I think Middle Eastern travellers found out about Blackpool about 12 years ago. It has been a very successful market, we get about 20,000 Arab visitors annually.”
To emphasise the importance of the arab tourist to North England, Shahdad Jahanbani, regional director, sales Middle East, Radisson Edwardian Hotels added, “The UAE has always been a great market for us. We have recently opened an office in Dubai, although this largely services our Mayfair Hotel in London.”
North England is dotted with some of the most versatile and varied cities, with their own blend of culture and tourist attractions. From Yorkshire to Blackpool and Lancashire, Chester and Chershire, Liverpool, Manchester and Lake District. Speaking of the region’s diversity, Dodd said, “The entire North England package is very flexible. Guests can visit Scotland later. Manchester too is a great city, with five-star resort properties, spa, the designer stores and shopping and then to Blackpool for some family fun and theatre, the glitzy shows. The Lake District, has one of our most beautiful parks, 16 lakes, mountains, it’s a very tranquil place. Liverpool is a world heritage city and has been named European Capital Culture for 2008. This year it celebrates its 800th birthday. Close to that is Chester which has been the roman war city. All these cities have so much to offer, they are so rich in their heritage. “
Besides the beauty, these places are more economical or more adventurous, depending on the way you look at it. From top-notch five-star hotels to £20 family-run bed and breakfasts that make the destination more attractive than London. “We are cheaper even for a five-star. We have some new investments into hotels including five-star serviced apartments and boutique hotels. We have a lot of people who come to UK for a month and want to do more than just visit London. And we are working with agents who provide bus tours, or chauffeur driven tours for two to 40 people and take them on a tailor made tour. They can do the Manchester, the Lake District, Blackpool and are then taken back to London. And now with Emirates opening flights to Manchester, which is like the center of North England, Blackpool is more accessible for Arab tourists,” said Seddon.
The influx of Arab tourist is also accountable for the fact that most of these cities are directly connected to the Arab hub – Dubai. This definitely helps in linking the region to North England. Dodd says, “To the consumers, it’s all about promoting the place. Whether it’s with direct services into Manchester with Etihad and Emirates, now flying twice a day. Emirates is also flying into the Newcastle. In terms of the business we have seen from the region, the market is very much family focused and are now flying into Manchester and spending four-seven nights in Blackpool.”
Since the link is directly with the UAE, it turns out to be the biggest and in some cases the only source market. “Our concentration is really only in the UAE. This is mainly due to the direct flight connections. In our total market of international tourists, it may be a small number of arrivals, but it has the potential and that’s why we want to invest here,” said Dodd.
So does it look like that 2007 is going to strengthen the bond between north England and the Middle East?
Peter Dodd said that although the people of the region know of the destination and they still need to create a demand. “The history of this market is very much like our aerospace industry, which is based close to Blackpool and there’s been a lot of B2B traffic. In 2007, we are looking at another five per cent increase in arrival numbers from the region.”
Jane Seddon agreed, but felt there is still a lot more work to be done, “We are trying to achieve more packages as against counting the number of visitors. I think it is important to strengthen our relationships and if we can do that with working with airlines and wholesalers – I think that is more beneficial to the destination. So, strengthening our relationships is our target for 2007 and to get more people to put those packages into their brochures.”
At the end the destinations sell themselves all one needs to do is make them more accessible and for that the effort required is already visible.
By Shalu Chandran & Sonorita Chauhan