The UK remains a popular destination for Gulf and Middle East tourists despite the effects of the September 11 attacks in the US. And the British Tourist Authority (BTA) remains hopeful of ending the year, which was heading for a record pre-September 11 on a good note with modest growth.
TTN's JONNA SIMON speaks to Mark Miller, the BTA's Dubai-based regional area manager for Middle East and Indian Sub-Continent, on the authority's plans for the year ahead:
Q: I know that the foot and mouth outbreak reduced tourism to the UK earlier this year. Did it also affect travel from the Middle East - surely, hiking in the hills etc is not so popular with Middle East residents?
A: We were very fortunate, the markets over here are very orientated towards city dwelling and cultural events. Up until September 11 this year, our figures showed, we would enjoy a record year.
Although there has not been any serious concerns for us here, our US office has already seen a 20 per cent downturn in travel from the USA to the UK.
Q: Are you planning any new campaigns to increase tourism from the Middle East and from the UAE in particular, to the UK?
A: Yes, we are working on some new campaigns at the moment. Next year is very important for Britain with two major events taking place - the Commonwealth Games and the Queen's Golden Jubilee. The latter will have several festivals and cultural events based around it.
We are also developing a gardens campaign for next year, focusing on the gardens of Britain and we are also working on events in connection with the Harry Potter movie which was released last month. We have designed a Harry Potter Magical Britain Movie Map, and finally we also have some sports promotions going.
So we are working on a promotional calendar starting in January next year.
Q: Can you tell me how much you will be investing in marketing?
A: The budget for next year will be around £400,000 ($571,488) which is not overwhelming compared to some of our competitors. Part of the 2002 - budget will be used for infrastructure as well as promotions.
It is possible to secure extra funding for special events and if the after-effects of September 11 need more investment in tourism for the UK like a more tactical image campaign, we will be able to get extra funding.
Q: Which are the most popular attractions for visitors from the UAE?
A: London is definitely the number one attraction. BTA has said that of the 26 million visitors to Britain annually, 58 per cent go to London.
From our market - around 85 per cent will travel to London and use the city as a base and go out to theme parks from there or on educational courses such as children's summer camps.
Some visitors will combine business with their stay and of course, London is great for shopping.
Q: Gulf nationals like to have family-style holidays, do you cater to this segment of travellers?
A: There seems to be a growing trend towards renting apartments, rather than purchasing a holiday package. Arab nationals tend to buy the airfares and at the same time rent an apartment or a hotel suite. Once in the UK, they will then sort themselves out regarding transportation and excursions and tours.
Q: Are there any special periods in which you will be launching campaigns?
A: We are well into developing our strategy for next year and we begin in January and work through to June.
Then there will be the larger campaigns for the two major events, which we will tackle, when we receive more information, as the events will be gathering momentum.
At the present time, we are concentrating on tactical campaigns rather than involving ourselves in massive TV promotions. We are working on more bookable product launches with our commercial partners.
For instance we are running a couple of promotions at present with Emirates Airline and they are working extremely well, as Emirates has the spread of destinations serving London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Q: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - any visitors from the Gulf to these regions?
A: Scotland has begun to pick up a little, but it is still a small percentage, but the interest is genuine. We are trying to promote the regional spread of tourism.
There are some really beautiful areas outside London, which we are actively promoting. This could also dispel the myth of Britain being expensive.
Staying or visiting outside London can save travellers up to 40 per cent on their expenses. Scotland is definitely one of the regions we are actively promoting.
Wales - we were delighted at the last ATM to have a representative from the Welsh Tourist Board on our stand. We have also organised a press trip to Cardiff to show the media what Wales can offer.
However, it is not going to be a quick fix. It will involve more long-term education about these areas. In Wales, the infrastructure is already there and the scenery is beautiful. Wales is also reasonably close to London so it is not too difficult getting there.
Northern Ireland - not really at the moment, as some visitors are worried about security aspects. We have had many inquires about the Republic of Ireland.
The Irish are in the process of establishing a joint tourism board for the North and South to jointly promote the island.
Q: How many visitors from the UAE to the UK last year - and how many do you expect in the coming year?
A: The figures for last year were very encouraging with 171,000 visits spending almost one billion dirhams ($272 million). This represented a 30 per cent increase in spend year on year and a 23 per cent increase in visits.
Next year is very difficult to predict, as we do not know what will be happening on the world stage. I am still hoping for a good result for the current year, as we had such a good summer, so I expect at least a modest growth rate.
Q: Do you think, the current world crisis will effect UK tourism in a major way?
A: It has had an impact already. BTA has recently issued a press release stating that we are closing 20 per cent of our business, which represents something like £2.5 billion loss in tourism revenues for Britain due to foot and mouth and the events surrounding September 11.
I believe the impact will be ongoing, as markets like the US and Asia will take some time to come back to previous figures. It will probably take 2-3 years for UK tourism to really pick up again.
The US market represents a huge chunk of business for Britain, so it has really hit us very hard, but we have to bounce back and look to the future.
BTA is planning a £5 million reassurance campaign trying to explain to potential visitors that Britain is safe and will be a very exciting country to visit next year with the Golden Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games which come around every four years, and Britain is hosting the games in Manchester in 2002.
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