September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Colin Marshall (Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge) has spent a lifetime in the travel business and is best remembered for his long and successful tenure at British Airways. Here he reflects on the years and looks forward towards 2012 and the Olympics.
Looking back over a career spent almost entirely in travel and transport, it seems that business transformation in one form or another has become my particular stock in trade.
It was definitely so, long ago in the car rental business and most certainly the case during more recent years in international air transport.
Nowhere, though, has the task of transforming a business been more complex and more pressing than in Britain”s vital tourism industry.
At the end of this year I step down as chairman of VisitBritain, the Government agency created nearly four years ago through the merger of the former British Tourist Authority and the English Tourism Council. Its remit was to market tourism to Britain overseas; and to market England within Britain and four selected European countries.
The combined nine years that I have served as a board member of the old BTA and more recently in the chair of the new VisitBritain have been mostly fulfilling. They have also been frequently frustrating.
The industry”s perceived importance is marked by the fact that we no longer talk simply about tourism because, these days, our business is defined as the visitor economy, with all that implies for the industry”s strategic importance and the mix of markets we serve.
Just think about some of the numbers: Today”s British visitor economy ” including both leisure and business tourism ” is worth some ”74bn ($143.4bn) a year to the national economy. In England, the annual economic value amounts to ”57bn ($110.4bn). More than two million people depend on the visitor economy for employment and a vast number of other livelihoods benefit indirectly.
Numbers of overseas visitors are increasing steadily, year by year. In 2005, we welcomed a record number of 30m visitors from abroad. Their spending totalled well over ”14bn ($27bn). During the current year, with most markets showing growth, we anticipate record numbers of visitors.
Britain”s modern visitor economy is clearly a success story and it stems from VisitBritain”s commitment to transform what appeared to be a cottage industry clutter into a focused, cohesive, market-driven enterprise.
The way in which VisitBritain and its service partners and stakeholders across the country have set about transforming the visitor economy has been encouraging. I have often used the word ”reinvention” to describe the process, but that is precisely what is happening, at every level of the business. And I use the word business deliberately; because a hard-headed business approach to the visitor economy is the route we have taken and will continue to take.
It has been the pathway to VisitBritain”s initial three-year strategy and will continue to be for the future. We have adhered to objectives similar to those held by any forward-looking enterprise. They centre on pursuing growth especially in new markets; improving training and skills standards; significantly raising the levels of welcome, quality and value offered to the customer; creating attractive brands; and marketing, publicising and distributing our products with world-class professionalism.
I have been encouraged to see our new-found spirit of customer-driven enterprise at work, not only at VisitBritain”s headquarters, but also in key overseas markets and in every region of England. Sure, we still have some way still to go in achieving productive cohesion across the visitor economy but the situation is improving in a quite remarkable way through new, industry alliances and business improvement schemes.
Perhaps the most spectacular change has been the highly successful development of advanced marketing techniques, based on state-of-the-art technology. By global acclaim, VisitBritain now leads the world in visitor economy internet marketing and will continue to do so with the imminent fourth edition of its web site.
There are many talented people to thank for this success but I must acknowledge the strong leadership and clear vision of VisitBritain”s chief executive, Tom Wright, in creating an intensely competitive, market focused organisation.