Britain set to encourage ME visitors

Carol Maddison, regional marketing manager for VisitBritain in the UAE, tells TTN its plans for 2008
VisitBritain - encouraging tourists to rural areas such as the Lake District

What kind of tourist arrival numbers has the country seen from Middle East travellers in 2007?
With provisional figures for the first five months of this year available it is clear that we are set to see a much slower growth rate than has become the norm in the past few years.  On a year to date basis volume is up 2 per cent with no change in the level of visitor spending.  UK inbound figures for May show a modest 3.7 per cent increase in visitor arrivals compared with May 2006, and forward bookings 0.8 per cent up on a year ago.  Latest figures on hotel occupancy released by PKF show performance remains strong both in London and the regions, with occupancy levels at similar levels to May 2006.
Britain received 443,000 visitors in 2006 which was a 15 per cent increase over 2005’s 384,000 visits.  For VisitBritain’s primary market UAE Britain received 178,000 visitors in 2006 which was a 34 per cent increase over 2005’s 133,000.  Spending in 2006 was £200m, a 25 per cent increase over 2005’s £160m.

What are your targets for 2008?
Our targets for 2008 are to increase the numbers of visitors from the Middle East to Britain and the amount of money that they spend.  We also have a target of getting Middle Eastern visitors to go beyond London so we will work with regional airlines that fly to places other places. Another objective is to encourage visitors from this region to visit Britain outside the core summer months. 

What are the new initiatives in store for the New Year?
VisitBritain will re-launch its website which has been expanded and redesigned for ease of use, and is in Arabic and English. There is more imagery and video to allow you to explore Britain virtually before you travel, and Google Maps are available. You can also submit your own experiences from travelling in Britain and are able to view other people’s ‘traveller’s tales’.   You can search over 30,000 places to stay, many of which are bookable online. In addition you can now book anything from flight and train tickets, to entrance to attractions or tickets to the theatre. 
We are also launching GB4U an online youth campaign which will be rolled out in UAE and Saudi Arabia.  The aim will be to generate web traffic to dedicated content on and to partner sites as well as to capture contacts for a gb4u E-CRM programme. 
Initially a Britain Club for youth in UAE and KSA, it is permission-based sites that target audiences who choose to be a member. Sign up on the Visitbritain portal. This form is compatible with VisitBritain’s CRM system and the data is uploaded automatically. 

What is the country’s biggest appeal for ME travellers?
Research has shown that shopping is a key leisure activity for the Middle Eastern visitor. About  74 per cent of visitors from Saudi Arabia and UAE named shopping as their most popular activity when visiting Britain. (Source: Middle East Outbound Travel Survey 2002).   VisitBritain would like to capitalise on this by launching a retail campaign in January 2008 in conjunction with Maison de la France, VISA, Al Tayer Travel, Al Rostamani Travel, Omeir Holidays (Abu Dhabi) and Jumbo Travel (Kuwait) by offering a shopping package to UAE travelers that book the offer.  An integrated, image lead campaign will increase the profile of Britain and France, and all our partners in the UAE, by using enticing imagery to captivate a pertinent audience. At the same time, we also have an objective of securing response to the campaign through on and off-line lead generation.
The greenery and countryside that Britain has to offer is also very appealing for Middle Eastern residents as it is something different from their homeland.  With this in mind we will be working with the UK trade and regional tourist boards to put together packages for consumers to experience picturesque areas of the UK such as the Highlands of Scotland, Lake District and Snowdonia in Wales to name but a few. 

What are your offerings for travel agents and tour operators in the ME region?
VisitBritain has had an office based in Dubai since 1995 therefore we have a very long established relationship with the prominent members of the region’s travel trade.  We are here as a free resource to support them with anything to do with marketing Britain.  We are happy to support them by inviting them on fam trips to areas of Britain they may need product knowledge on so they can sell the destination with confidence.  We can also arrange destination training for front line staff and we have an abundance of free brochures that we distribute to them on a regular basis.  We also have a monthly e-dm that is sent out to our travel trade database that keeps them updated on new products and destinations in the UK.

What message do you have for tour operators and travel agents trying to sell your country as a destination?
Although Britain is a small island it has so much to offer their customers whether they are interested in a honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland, cave exploring in Yorkshire, hill walking in the Lake District or experiencing a narrow boat holiday in Norfolk.  There is so much diversity that they will never tire of selling the destination. 
The Middle East market is very important to Britain.  Visitors from the GCC markets accounted for 3 per cent of all spending in Britain in 2005 and an increase of 17 per cent since 2004. UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia showed the highest levels of spending. With the exception of Oman and UAE spending has increased in these markets with the highest increase by visitors from Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. 
The average expenditure per day is significantly higher in all of these markets than the world average of £57, and in fact these countries rank towards the top on a global basis in terms of daily spend. Overall, the average expenditure per day by visitors from these markets has shown a 30 per cent growth since 2004. Similarly, the average spend per visit figures are very high and amongst the highest on a global basis. Visitors from these countries spend well in excess of the world average of £472. With the exception of UAE visitors from all of these markets spent significantly more in Britain in 2005 than they did in 2004.  In terms of purpose of trip; Saudi visitors come for VFR and holidays, although business, miscellaneous and study also feature. Their money is mostly spent on miscellaneous activities, holidays and business.