VisitBritain rolls out tourism campaign in run-up to Olympics

By Michelle Baran
VisitBritain ad for Great campaignThe U.K. is starting to ramp up promotional efforts in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games with the launch of a marketing campaign called “Great.”

The campaign was unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron on Sept. 21 in New York and is intended to showcase different aspects of the country’s allure — including shopping, music, heritage, sports, the countryside, business and creativity — with messages like “Shopping is Great … Britain” and “Green is Great … Britain.”

The British government “asked us to put together a four-year, 100-million-pound [$156 million] campaign to promote Britain, to take advantage of this extraordinary selection of events, the royal wedding, the Queen’s jubilee, the Olympics and Paralympics,” said Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, the country’s tourism marketing organization.

The goal is to take that investment, half of which is being supplied by the government and the other half of which is coming from private entities, and translate it into 4 million additional overseas visitors to the country over the next four years.

And with the eyes of the world on London in the wake of this year’s royal wedding and in the run-up to next year’s events, culminating with the Summer Olympics, VisitBritain is hoping the exposure will spur demand for travel.

“We hope that one of the side products of this extraordinary 15 months is that we will showcase a lot more of Britain,” said Rodrigues, adding that 57% of inbound tourism is to London. “We’d like to increase the dispersion.”

With a limited budget, VisitBritain will focus on public relations efforts and media campaigns to get the word out, where to go and what to see, depending on a vast array of traveler interests.

“The noise about Britain as a destination is going to be greater than you have seen for many, many years,” Rodrigues said.

There will also be some advertising in conjunction with industry partners. And Rodrigues is hoping that once Britain’s exposure crescendos, so too will the call to travel agents to book it.

“The opportunity for agents is … you’re going to have a lot of latent demand for exploring Britain. Your customers are going to be seeing it on television. And these are tough economic times. You have a wonderful sales opportunity,” Rodrigues said.

He noted that while Britain is “not offering $449 for three nights in Cancun,” there are affordable travel options to and through the country despite the perception that the U.K. is expensive. For instance, he said that there has been a growth in the number of quality three-star properties in the country.

Rodrigues also addressed the problem of tourism displacement that occurs in a destination that is hosting the Olympics.

“We are grasping displacement with both hands,” he said.

That means pushing messages such as that hotel blocks booked for the Olympics will be released back to suppliers in January, opening up availability; that business travelers opting for alternate destinations next year will open up hotel space for leisure travelers; and that alternate arts and culture venues competing with the Olympics for attention, such as theaters, will likely offer great values on ticket prices.

“If I’m a travel agent, I basically forget the Olympics, the Olympics is basically going to be a lot of noise,” Rodrigues said. “But Britain is open 365 days a year and the Olympics is only 40 days, and it’s only in London.”

And for those who want to get in on the Olympics fervor, “I believe there will be rooms available,” Rodrigues said, adding that “there are still packages available, including the tickets.”

He also noted that people who want to go to the Olympics and are having trouble finding accommodations should look into areas from which it is relatively easy to commute into London, such as Oxford.

And if Olympics fans can’t get tickets to any of the events, he recommended opting for an event that is open to the public, such as the marathon race, or heading to other parts of the country where events will be aired on big screens.

Far Hills, N.J.-based CoSport is the official reseller of Olympic and Paralympic tickets for the U.S. market.
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