WTA Chair, Andrew Campbell, attended the recent BTIG meeting held at the VB offices in London. Central to the meeting was discussion around the 2018 ONS figures for overseas visitors to the UK. Overall there were 3% fewer overseas visitors to the UK compared to 2017, representing 1.2 million travellers. Spend was 7% down representing £1.6 billion. Research indicates that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit may be a contributable cause, together with a slowdown in the EU economy. That said, the China market was up 16% and is a continuing “star performer” – providing further evidence as to where future marketing efforts for businesses should be channelled.
Disappointingly, overseas visitor numbers to Wales were 13% down (across all purposes for travel: holiday, business, VFR, miscellaneous) from 2017, although visitor expenditure was 10% up, redressing the 17% downturn in visitor spend experienced during 2017. The statistics raise a concern that during a period of weak UK currency, visitor numbers coming to Wales, not unrealistically, should have been higher. Although many reasons may lie behind this (relating to product or promotion), the WTA has, for the past 12 months, questioned the robustness of research methodology currently employed. In particular the size of the visitor sample being used. It was therefore interesting to note from deliberations yesterday, that due to operational constraints, a smaller sample size was used for the 2018 survey – which might quite possibly have had a bearing on outcomes. If the sample size is down, margins of error can often go up.
Why does this point particularly matter? Quite simply, publication of poor results can create negative perceptions, which in the longer term can affect consumer confidence, adding further competitive pressures to Welsh tourism businesses.
Another hot topic at the meeting was the impact of Brexit upon UK inbound tourism – and recent research undertaken over “Brexit influences” may be accessed through the VistBritain website. Clearly Brexit has created uncertainty within some overseas markets, but VB are taking steps to mitigate pressures. A PR campaign is currently running in Europe which is sending out reassuring messages that, “nothing has changed” and which is further supported by a “Don’t Miss the British Summer” campaign. Commercial activity with existing partners (such as easyJet) are being stepped up – and more supplier content is being added to the website and digital communication platforms.
Presentations were received from VisitBristol (the “Smart City”) about their utilisation of 5G technology through a small number of pilot projects (in conjunction with Bristol University) – and from the Discover England Tourism Exchange GB business to business platform initiative.