On Message: Want bigger domestic tourism gains? Raise standards

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

Domestic holidays may be up, but spend is down. Danny Rogers prescribes better service, a focus on food and social media-driven word of mouth

So, August is finally here. The business world outside travel and tourism stutters to a virtual halt and Europe’s political leaders head off on holiday.

In these days of austerity, top politicians know they must be seen to take a domestic holiday, both to avoid accusations of extravagance and to be seen to contribute to the home economy.

Hence this month we will be able to enjoy (carefully choreographed) snaps of the Nicolas Sarkozy on the French Riviera, Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in northern Castilla and Angela Merkel hiking the South Tyrol.

Meanwhile, our own David Cameron will be flashing his Vilebrequins in the Cornish surf, alongside at least one of the Miliband brothers. 

Since Tony Blair’s heavily criticised penchant for hanging out with billionaire pals in the Med, British politicians now recognise the domestic break as an essential PR tool.

At first glance this rather blatant tactic appeared to have worked for both politicos and UK tourism marketers.

Recent figures released by the Office of National Statistics showed that the 12 months to May 2010 saw one of the biggest ever falls in Brits opting to holiday abroad. 

But closer examination suggests this has not necessarily resulted in higher spend in domestic tourism.

Indeed a report this weekend on corporate insolvency showed UK restaurants and hotels have been hit hard. Almost 2,500 went to the wall last year.

It seems that despite increased visitor volumes, individual customer spend is still down.

I spent this weekend at the lovely Ashdown Park country hotel in Sussex. It was at full occupancy. However, the general manager told me that rates were not holding up as well as expected and customers were leaving their bookings until last minute, seeking deals.

All of which suggests it is still a difficult market for those in domestic tourism, despite the weakened pound. This means that British hotel marketers must be smarter than ever in a fiercely competitive market.

I would contend that food and service are critical factors in this new environment.

If hotels can take advantage of the current resurgence of British food on the international stage, and make their restaurants true ‘destinations’, they will be able to cut through a cluttered market.

Ashdown Park, for example, has been offering two nights for the price of one, as long as customers eat at its classy Anderida restaurant on both nights. The GM says this has proven a major success.

Equally, in my opinion, British service remains patchy at best when compared to the best areas of the Med. We have not yet developed a natural service culture in this country.

Only better hospitality training will be able to create a generation of waiters that can truly compete with their accomplished Italian or Spanish rivals.

But even with both of these advantages, British hotels need more sophisticated marketing that embraces social media – increasingly the word-of-mouth differentiator in hotel selection.

Some of the international chains, such as Four Seasons, are now embracing this to great effect. The Four Seasons Hampshire (@FSHampshire) now has vibrant Twitter conversations with guests and journalists which it says are driving stronger customer relationships.

Unfortunately the harsh truth is that for those whose livelihoods depend on UK tourism they will need a lot more than an unusually good summer and the glamorous ‘SamCam’ gracing their doorsteps.

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