VisitBritain's Karen Clarkson

By Johanna Jainchill
Karen ClarksonWith the 2012 Olympics kicking off in London over the weekend, Travel Weekly Destinations Editor Johanna Jainchill last week spoke to Karen Clarkson, vice president of VisitBritain in North America, about London's room occupancy during the Games and how the country plans to avoid a post-Olympic tourism letdown.

Q: Are you pleased with the Olympics so far in terms of visitor numbers and visitor spending?

Spending by international visitors in the U.K. on Visa cards increased 5.1% year on year ... during [last] week. Categories like tourist attractions and exhibitions, up 13.2% year on year, and tickets and theaters, up 53% year on year, indicate visitors are taking in the sights and perhaps taking advantage of the Cultural Olympiad ahead of the Games.

Q: Are reports of lower-than-expected hotel occupancy a concern?

Industry insights indicate a healthy hotel occupancy forecast for London during the Olympic Games period, averaging around 80% or higher per night. Final figures won't be available until after the Games.

Q: Britain has promised to counteract the dreaded post-Olympic tourism letdown. Is that something you're working on?

Absolutely. VisitBritain has a three-year strategy in place with a clear activity program in place pre-, during and post-Games.

Earlier this year we launched our biggest, most ambitious tourism marketing program in the past decade: GREAT Britain -- You're Invited. This entailed both destination brand work and tactical work in partnership with airlines, agents and operators. ... We are definitely making the most of the opportunity to ensure that Britain is front and center with consumers and agents alike. Our marketing program will pick up again in the fall to continue to drive bookings through calendar year end and into 2013. Early indications from operators are positive, with a double-digit upswing in forward bookings for 2013.

Q: Can you describe some of the post-Olympic marketing initiatives in place?

New Yorkers and Los Angeles residents experienced extensive outdoor advertising. [They] are the two top-producing [source markets] for travel to Britain. In tandem, we ran spots on NBC and ABC during peak times including the Oscars. This was supported by a content partnership with Yahoo and advertising in the [subways]. This was all to highlight the diversity of what we have to offer for U.S. travelers to Britain.

Once that interest is piqued, a key role for VisitBritain is to convert that into bookings via the industry, so in tandem we had a broad cross-section of partnerships in place with [airlines, tour operators and retailers].

Q: How can travel agents take advantage of the Olympics to sell Britain?

Our destination training program, We have a new module called GREAT Britain -- You're Invited 2012, to provide inspirational ideas for clients with fantastic experiences across the whole year. With the eyes of the world viewing Britain during Games time, we anticipate [more interest] from consumers.

Travel agents should expect more inquiries and be knowledgeable in both the destination and product offering. [There are] a range of new hotels, attractions and sightseeing excursions and tours introduced, all commissionable to agents. Equipped with the knowledge of the new product, agents can really upsell to their clients to ensure their vacation to Britain is not only memorable for the client but profitable for the agent too.

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw. 
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