Monday, January 12, 2009

What's wrong with the UK tourism industry?

(Is this your stereotype of British tourism?)

So when the economic malaise struck (and we were mid development with Tourdust) it become obvious that we needed to focus on promoting British experiences.  To promote the best of the authentic and independent experiences on offer in these fair Isles.

First issue was finding them and sure there were a few around the place, but nothing like the concentration you will find in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.  Take a look at the regional tourism boards and it's all hotels, B&Bs and National Trust properties.  Surely there had to be more going on?

Next issue was getting them onto Tourdust.  Now as long as you are providing the right kind of experience with that essence of authenticity then there really aren't a lot of barriers to entry. No up front cost, minimal cost if you get any business through our site, just a few hours to sign up, add some photos etc - we were even offering to help them do it!  Without going into details there were a whole lot more "erm not really interested, maybe when you're successful" responses from English operators in particular than anywhere else.  Interestingly Scottish operators had an attitude much more akin to that of our antipodean cousins.  Now to be fair there are a whole heap of travel directories out there and as a cynical Englishman myself my first instinct is always to say no, but even so the difference with other countries was so marked.  Are we really less open to getting out there and promoting our businesses?

The good news is that there are some fantastic companies out there, we just need more of them. Anyone who reads a Sunday broadsheet travel section will know about all the yurts, glamcamping & eco options and I'm proud to say we've got some really exciting stuff on Tourdust already (vineyard tours, fly fishing, foraging, buschraft, horse riding, birding, kayaking, etc ....).

So here's my thoughts on what needs to be done if we want to have a thriving inbound & domestic independent travel scene in England:

  • The Tourist boards need to start supporting and highlighting small and independent guides and different places to stay.  I had an insightful conversation with one un-named tourism board who admitted that they couldn't feature many of the eco treehouses and yurts that have sprung up because they didn't have a proper rating from some official review board!!
  • There should be grants available for people setting up innovative small-scale tourism ventures that attract visitors (not just more B&Bs) - thinking about it I think there may already be with the rural tourism grants?
  • Operators should look to offer stuff at a variety of price points.  There's definitely a place for the £300 a night yurt and the whole glamcamping movement, but how about the £70 a night yurt? or half day tours?  I was pleasantly surprised for instance to see Seafreedom Kayak offering a nights B&B with a days kayaking from £77 per person.    If people are going to be staying here this year because of the economy then we need to give them some reasonably priced options.
  • We need people to innovate and build on the unique cultural strengths we have to hand.  Why isn't someone offering small group tours of the finest real ale pubs and craft brewers?  Why aren't there sea kayak operators all other the estuaries and harbours of Devon and Cornwall?  Cheese tours of the West Country, Cider, etc. (excuse me the food & wine obsession, I'm a little hungry)
It always maddens me when I hear of tourists visiting and only hitting London, Oxford and Cambridge.  It is an entirely historic-sight driven agenda which misses all of the highlights of these stunning islands.  It also means that the tourism dollar is concentrated mostly in a couple of large pockets instead of being dispersed into the desperately needy rural communities.   Ideas anybody?

I stand corrected, there are some lovely modestly priced yurts out there.  It's worth pointing out that I would love to stay at a £300 a night yurt, I just can't afford to.  We have a couple of more affordable but trully stunning yurts on Tourdust with Eco retreats and Broome Retreat.  Also check out Go-Glamcamping for some very enticing options.


Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I think the fundamental problem is that so few of us know what the UK has to offer. National Parks, AONBs, World Heritage Sites etc Few know what's out there, let alone how best to experience it.



Im Andrea from Northern Ireland,I love travelling i look forward to going on your site.
Those Yurts sound good

Chris said...

I fully concur in this region South West you have to pay a fortune to get on the web site (thats if they accept you) and then it is only a one line mention about seven pages down. Now the South West Area is breaking up into Counties tourist boards and if the Webmaster is ill or away they wil not up date it. Quite honestly I could run their business better than mine if that is the standard we are at.
Cycle Dorset and South Somerset