Comment: UK tourism campaign could be ‘Greater’

Comment: UK tourism campaign could be ‘Greater’

David Tarsh takes the government to task for missing the point on welcoming visitors. Tarsh is managing director of Tarsh Consulting.

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, officially launched VisitBritain’s GREAT image campaign last week.

How I would love to say that the campaign is GREAT. But the best one can say is that as an advertising campaign, bits are GREAT but there is a better way for Britain to blow £25 million on marketing.

It is GREAT that the government has recognised that inbound tourism is an important earner of foreign currency and has decided it should invest in the inbound industry.

It is also GREAT that the government has come up with money for Visit Britain, but don’t forget that this was preceded by savage staff cuts.

Bold images of Britain’s most spectacular sights plastered prominently in our core origin markets is good and the ‘you’re invited’ video that is running on the internet is very engaging, but some elements of the campaign are crying out to be questioned.

A poster depicting a gate in the forest that could be just about anywhere and another of a shoe that could be on sale in boutiques in dozens of internatiional cities does little to differentiate Britain.

Running the GREAT advertising posters in our own airports is bizarre because once a visitor has bought a ticket, the advertising has done its job! VB justifies the spend on the grounds it will “improve perceptions of the UK’s overall friendliness” but if we want visitors to feel the UK is friendly, it would be much better to invest in cutting queues at immigration and inspiring customer-facing staff to exude more warmth.

However, the GREAT conundrum of this campaign is spending money on advertising in emerging markets like China, where people need a visa to visit the UK. In those countries, more people want to visit Britain than actually come. A major reason they don’t is the dreadful experience they have to endure when applying for a visa.

Anyone wanting to come to the UK from, say, China has to make an appointment at a visa processing centre (which could be 500 miles away), complete a form in English (not just a foreign language, but a foreign script), be photographed and fingerprinted (a process associated with criminality) and then interviewed; they are then charged £76, with no guarantee of entry.

The application process is so off-putting that many prospective visitors give up and decide to go elsewhere instead. A study by the European Tour Operator’s Association (ETOA) in 2010 revealed that around half a billion euros in tourism revenue is lost for this reason alone. What’s more, it found that of all the countries in Europe, the UK’s application process was considered to be the worst.

If I were a prospective visitor who was attracted by advertising that told me I was ‘invited’ and then had to go through a visa application process that made me feel like a suspected criminal, there’s only one thing I would feel – and that is deeply insulted.

Therefore, if the £25m had instead been directed towards making our visa application process fit for valuable customers rather than for suspected illegal immigrants, there would be an immediate return on the investment – and that would be a marketing initiative that truly deserves the description: GREAT!


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