Travel Weekly senior editor Kenneth Kiesnoski spoke with
Stephen Dowd, CEO of the British Incoming Tour Operators
Association (BITOA), about the outlook for U.K. tourism this
Q: Official figures showed a surprising 12%
drop in arrivals from the U.S. through June, when many expected a
rebound to begin. What's the BITOA's forecast for the rest of the
A:The pickup in numbers is actually quite good
for forward bookings -- those held at the end of June for the three
subsequent months through September -- which are looking to be up
by 3.5% this month.
I think the number of visitors in June and July last year was
falsely inflated due to the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II,
so keeping somewhat level is actually very good. I think we'll end
up flat or just in the positive for July, but it's really going to
jump in September and October.
Q: VisitBritain head Rob Franklin said it's
pointless to compare today's trans-atlantic market with the
pre-9/11 glory days. Do you think U.S. arrivals in Britain will
A: I don't think they will "rebound" because
the market's changed dramatically. People are more conscious of the
implications of travel. But over a period of time, they'll get back
in the habit of traveling again. The underlying thing is rebuilding
Q: Contrary to the U.S. dip, your research
shows growth in arrivals from Europe. Can sheer volume from Europe
make up for a shortage of high-spending U.S. visitors?
A: In 2002, Americans accounted for 20% of
visitors, but the revenue from them is out of proportion to the
revenue from other countries.
VisitBritain just released monthly figures for June for foreign
visitors, and they're calling it a "bumper" month, which upsets me
a little bit because it's spinning the numbers rather than being
honest about things. It sends the wrong messages that everything's
rosy in the garden when it's not.
Yes, the overall numbers are up, but the reality is our revenue
still is down 15% -- because we really need the long-haul
Q: Some tourist boards are pushing European
short breaks for Americans. Is this feasible for Britain?
A: It's the wrong attitude. People coming to
Britain really need to get out of London and into the country and
smaller towns and cities, and you can't do that on a short
And it's a mistake to think that if you get them to come for a
weekend, it will entice them to return in six months' time for a
two-week stay. As much as we hate to say it, it's a bit of a bind
to get on a plane and fly across the Atlantic.
Q: What drives the U.S. bookings you do
A: Price is a big consideration, but that can't
last. Value for money will underpin everything. People eventually
are going to ask if they're getting good value.
To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].