Visit London ties its reinvention to the Web

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LONDON -- The British capital has a new outlook on tourism promotion, thanks to a revamped tourist board that's both flush with cash and busy reinventing how the destination markets itself.

Visit London, known until last July as the London Tourist Board and Convention Bureau, used the recent World Travel Market show here to trumpet its latest efforts, including new booking capabilities at its Visitlondon.com Web site; a marketing division of London into five subregions; increased co-marketing efforts with private concerns; continued efforts to grow niche business; and a new corporate look.

All this -- including a Visit London booth at the show six times the size of previous incarnations -- was made possible by some $34 million in promotion funds furnished by Mayor Ken Livingstone, who this year rededicated his administration's commitment to tourism.

The organization's new name was taken from its longstanding Web address, while its streamlined logo was commissioned to project an "instantly recognizable, highly readable and versatile" market identity.

Online opportunities

At World Travel Market, Visit London debuted accommodations booking functionality at its redesigned Web site -- targeted for now to U.K. and European visitors -- that offers consumers a "best-price guarantee" on direct reservations at a range of two- to five-star properties across the city.

Deputy chief executive Sandra Elliott said Visit London isn't turning its back on travel agents but instead is simply addressing new market realities with complementary efforts.

"We recognize that large numbers of long-haul travelers will book through travel agencies, and we want to work with operators and agents; there's no question of moving away from that model," she said.

"But we also recognize that there's a growing body of consumers who are able and want to make their own reservations online," Elliott added.

Online bookability of discount accommodations rates enables Visit London to address that need, she noted, as well as to tackle the common perception of the London hotel stay as an overly expensive proposition.

Other new booking options at the site include theater and events tickets and restaurant reservations. A full rollout of online booking capability from the U.S. is planned for the spring.

While busy making Visitlondon.com an all-in-one, citywide booking and information resource, Visit London also is engaged in diversification, dividing London into more easily marketed -- and digested -- tourism subregions: north, south, east, west and central.

For example, showgoers at World Travel Market found a "New London" stand jointly occupied by suppliers from South Bank/Bankside (also marketed as Riverside London), the Pool of London and East London.

Each region publishes maps, guidebooks and Web sites highlighting area attractions.

"We have responsibility for marketing London in its entirety, but we're also trying to make it more manageable and meaningful in promotional terms," said Elliott.

"But we're not forcing [suppliers] into identifying with the subregions, as there are some products that are pan-London or would not fit neatly into a particular subregion."

Niche moves

Another area of diversification for Visit London is an ongoing focus on niche markets, including business/incentives travelers, gays and lesbians, and, of late, luxury vacationers.

To wit, sales reps at the new Visit London booth at World Travel Market were busy handing out copies of the latest editions of the Incentive London and Gay London guides.

"Mainstream leisure continues to be an enormously important market, but over and above that, there are a number of niches that we're developing," said Elliott, stressing the economic impact of business and alternative lifestyle travelers.

But luxury looks to be the next big niche -- particularly from the U.S. East Coast, which Visit London is scouting out as the latest short-break and weekend-stay source market for "very well-heeled, cash-rich and time-poor" customers, Elliott said.

"There's certainly a shift, particularly after 9/11, to grasp the moment," she said. "From the East Coast, London is a five- to six-hour flight, doable for a weekend, and you can pack in an awful lot in three days here.

"We're developing some mechanisms to reach those people, determine what sort of messages they want to hear about London, how we should be addressing them and through which channels, as well as who might be the partners or allies we might line up in order to deliver that," Elliott added.

One way, it turns out, is to co-market with mass media, such as the movie industry. Visit London debuted a film-fan map highlighting spots seen in the movie "Love Actually," which was filmed in the city.

The free map -- which features 24 churches, squares, museums, streets, shops and other locales film fans might like to visit -- is the first in a planned series of such ventures.

Visit London also is making much of its public/private partnership with local visitor pass purveyor Leisure Pass Group, which sells the high-tech, all-in-one London Pass discount card, and -- as of January -- the similar London Business Card for visitors in the city on business.

The passes "tackle value and convenience [concerns], and we know those are the buttons we need to keep pushing, particularly for short-break visitors who want to maximize their time in London," Elliott said.

For more on Visit London, log on to www.visitlondon.com/traveltrade or contact VisitBritain at (800) 462-2748.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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