I write this not just at the end of my first year as CEO at UKinbound and the end of 2019, but also at the end of the 2nd decade of the 21st century. I was reminded of this when I came across my Amazon 2011 Christmas wish list – and on it was an iPod Nano – that seems a piece of kit from another century now! And it also made me reflect and think back to that glorious summer of 2012 when all of us in the UK felt confident, outward looking, and united; the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games showed off the UK as quirky, but decent and giving, and perceptions of welcome to the UK rose to an all-time high. Sadly, I am not sure we can say the same thing today.
Tourism was as ever a mixed picture, and 2019 was always going to be a challenge with lingering Brexit uncertainty. However, despite concerns, particularly around the impact of Brexit on perceptions of the UK’s attractiveness from core northern European markets, the latest official figures suggest that in the 12 months to the end of August 2019, the UK received 6% more leisure visitors than the year before, with total visitation up 2% at 38.3m visits, and overall spending growing by a modest 1% to £23.6bn. On speaking with you, most UKinbound members seem to have had a steady year – especially those that have a balanced portfolio of markets, with USA and China seeing solid growth, to somewhat offset softer European markets.
An Eventful Year
At UKinbound we’ve had a busy year working on your behalf. We started with an excellent Annual Convention in Glasgow – the city’s strapline tells no lie – the people really do make Glasgow and we were made to feel most welcome. We had our second year at ATM in Dubai with strong demand for the UK. An excellent Summer Ball was delivered by the team with dancing late into the evening. Along with our Discover series of events in Tayside, Salisbury, and the West Midlands, we also implemented fam trips for our tour operators across the country, regular Member Networking Evenings in London, England and Scotland; and speed-networking workshops.
November saw the delivery of an excellent WTM – it was hugely positive and gratifying to see that the UK and Ireland Hall seemed to be busier than others, and that the UK pavilion, that we hosted, seemed busier than elsewhere in the UK and Ireland hall. 99% of our partners rated the stand as very good or excellent with over 90% expecting to generate new business; planning now starts for 2020. A personal highlight for me was the New Member Masterclass we ran earlier in the summer – it wasn’t the biggest or boldest event we ran by any means, but I felt that the insights that this gave into how to get the very most out of membership was really practical and instructive – I would highly recommend this for any new members or anyone new to UKinbound.
We are also upping our game in terms of digital marketing with solid increases in website visitors, numbers of followers and rates of engagement (be that shares or opening and click through rates – above last year and above industry benchmarks). We are delighted that we now have a full time Marketing and Communications Executive – we are of course always keen to hear your news and to give it exposure where we can.
Staffing, salaries & a sector deal
In terms of our policy and advocacy work, in early 2019, the Association took the decision to focus on one of the most significant issues for our members – staffing, and specifically the future for EU staff in the industry. We therefore partnered with 14 other trade associations to investigate what the likely impact will be of the end of Free Movement, together with the Government’s proposed approach to immigration post Brexit. In October, we launched the research: A Perfect Storm? The impact of the end of Free Movement on the UK tourism industry. It showed that a restriction of access to European workers would have a very significant impact on the ability of businesses to continue to operate and grow. The research was lauded by the Tourism Alliance as “the most important piece of research launched in 2019”. Our three key asks for the Government are that language skills are added to the occupation shortage list; that if any salary threshold is proposed that it be regionally set to take into account lower salaries in key tourism hotspots; and that quarterly independent reviews are undertaken to ensure tourism sectors are not adversely affected.
On other policy matters, I am absolutely delighted that a Tourism Sector Deal was secured earlier this year as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and we look forward to helping implement the Deal alongside industry colleagues and partners. Credit is due to all the hard work of VisitBritain in this area. More details are needed on how industry and government together can leverage this opportunity; however, it cannot go unremarked that tourism is one of only 10 industries to have been recognised with a sector deal. And of course we now have a new UK Government which will bring new policies, and we will work on your behalf to make sure that tourism’s voice is heard, and that the new Conservative government policies support your growth ambitions.
Facing the Future
No one can deny that there is more light being shone than ever on tourism’s impact on the environment, and with noises of flight-shaming growing, Extinction Rebellion disrupting life in our cities this summer, and with significant publicity generated by Greta Thunberg, the travel and tourism industry is starting to face up to its challenges on sustainability. More data is needed so that answers can be found; and they won’t be by government alone – we will all need to do our part, and UKinbound is currently developing a policy around sustainability to see what practical steps the Association can take and how best to support our members’ businesses. We also need to continue to push the message that tourism is a force for good, and not only generating jobs and growth across the whole of the UK, but also allowing a greater understanding of each other’s cultures – something we could all maybe do with a bit more of currently.
We named Revitalise as our new corporate charity partner – they do some super work and are a national charity that provides hundreds of short breaks and holidays for disabled people and carers. In November, I also joined some other travel CEOs to do the CEO Sleepout in support of the homeless – we all encourage so many tourists to sleep in comfortable beds here in the UK, so it seemed only right to do something for those without a pillow, let alone a bed.
As we move into 2020, we look forward to a new year working on your behalf – our eyes turn shortly to the UKinbound Annual Convention in February in Bristol, we have some challenging and relevant content, as well as the stars of the inbound industry being recognised at the Awards for Excellence – and hopefully a little bit of fun into the bargain – I hope to see you there.
Our membership is strong with some fantastic new supplier and buyer members; but we know we must continue to drive a return on your membership investment. I would like to thank each and every UKinbound member for their ongoing support in 2019, as well as thanks to the UKinbound Board; and of course my personal thanks to all in the secretariat: to Antony, Affton, Antonia, Cindy, Saara, Temi, Sadiqa, Quang, Sara, Nathan, Karen and Colin! You are all stars!
And finally to wish you all of the very best of season’s greetings and a healthy, happy and prosperous 2020.