A friendly British welcome

Sandie Dawe says Brits are more friendly than people think

Sandie Dawe says Brits are fun and relaxed.
Sandie Dawe says Brits are fun and relaxed.

On her recent visit to DEBI, Sandie Dawe MBE, CEO, Visit Britain says Brits are a lot more friendly and welcoming than people might think.

ATN: How important is the Middle East market to Britain’s tourism industry?
It’s very important. It’s a very high value market. The numbers in themselves aren’t enormous but it’s a very high spend per head and its a very loyal market so its definitely one that we want to nurture.

ATN: Many GCC visitors go to London - how do you encourage them to see more of Britain?
There’s a lot of connections with London and I know there are residents here who have second homes there, but there’s every reason to explore the rest of Britain and spend more time out of London.

What they’ll get is the quintessential English countryside, the greenery - all the things you don’t have here - and with airlines like Emirates you’ve got great regional connectivity so you can fly direct to Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle. You can spend a few days somewhere else in the country and fly back out of London.

ATN: What’s so appealing about Britain to visitors from this part of the world?
Britain offers something you don’t have here. We have more than 1000 years of built heritage. We’ve got the greenery, the climate is temperate, its never too hot, never too cold, especially if you come in the summer, its really pleasant.

They like the shopping which is really good. We have Harrods, Selfridges, Bicester Village. They also like the depth of entertainment – there is always something new at the West End. You can get fantastic entertainment around the rest of the country as well with festivals and theatres etc.

ATN: What are you doing to promote Britain as a destination this year?
What we are doing is to turn up the volume on the ‘personality’ of Britain - the friendliness and the welcome. Our research shows that people think that we are perhaps a bit reserved, and not as dynamic, welcoming and fun.

We are very good about showing off the countryside and the monuments, but we have got to be not too shy about putting forward our personality. Our new logo is simply “you’re invited’ so we’ll use that right up through the Olympics – we want to use the Olympics as an opportunity to show that friendly side of us as we put on the world’s biggest party.

It’s the perception among people who haven’t been to Britain. Those who have been find that we are a lot friendlier and more fun and relaxed and multi-cultural than the stereotypes but of course we live in a world of perception and stereotypes so our challenge is around fun and welcome and friendliness.

ATN: How was tourism to Britain impacted during the recession?
We had a weak pound which was great for affordability and value for the eurozone and the dollar, but at the same time people in those economies were fearing for their jobs. So we were up against the fact that some of our key markets were in recession.

The market that really did fall off a cliff last year was business and corporate which was down a good 20 percent. Our leisure market was slightly up last year and I think it was as a result of the fact that we ran a very strong ‘value’ campaign absolutely driving home that message. We were really tactical – we shifted to price-led short term marketing.

ATN: What are your forecasts for this year?
We are looking at a tiny increase in terms of numbers and values - probably almost less than 1 percent. So we are holding our own, the spend might go up 3 or 4 percent. Quite a lot of that is about the weak pound. But we don’t really see the business market recovering quickly.

Now we are worried about that volcano because the ash will affect the North Atlantic so that’s a bit of a concern. The last time it erupted it went for 18 months apparently – there’s nothing you can do about it and depending on which way the winds blowing it could dampen the demand across the Atlantic just at a point when we know the demand was coming back strongly.

The other concern that might dent demand this year is the World Cup because people stay at home and watch the television rather than go on holiday.

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