NEWS ANALYSIS: British tourist industry plans to survive horrors - The effect of the US terror attacks on Britain's tourism industry has been to pile more pressure on an already troubled sector, says Andy Allen

As farmers were compensated for their foot-and-mouth-related losses

earlier this year, many voices were warning that the much bigger

industry in terms of turnover and staff was being ignored.



Tourism has had a difficult summer, with little Treasury help and

without much of the public sympathy elicited by the farmers' plight,

hoping Britain's image would improve as the disease was gradually

brought under control.



The optimism did not last long and in the wake of the 11 September

attacks on the US, British Incoming Tour Operators Association (BITOA)

chief executive Richard Tobias is warning that Britain faces a 20 per

cent drop in visitors, as an estimated five million tourists stay

away.



Whereas before, the countryside in areas such as Devon and Cumbria were

most severely affected, speculation that London may be the next target

for terrorists has ensured the capital has suffered its own

downturn.



Major hotel groups report a similar 20 per cent drop in room occupancy

and several have announced communications strategies targeting the

domestic market in response.



The financial cost to the industry as a whole is expected to rise to

£2.5bn. Tobias also warned that worse times may lie ahead because

nobody knows how military action against global terrorism will affect

tourists' perceptions as to whether the world is safe for travel.



In short, the combined effect of foot-and-mouth and terrorist atrocities

has presented a series of obstacles for the PROs charged with enticing

tourists back to the UK.



Tourist bodies are stepping up their work to take on the communications

challenge. Indeed, British Tourist Authority PRO Elliot Frisby points

out that at least the close proximity of the two blows means crisis PR

measures were already in place as the 11 September attacks forced

foot-and-mouth out of the news pages and holiday cancellations began to

spiral.



The BTA's 'special crisis action group' had already been set up to

counter the effects of foot-and-mouth with its first role to establish

which markets had been most affected. As a result, it concentrated its

promotional efforts on 11 countries; mainly in Europe but including the

US.



This strategy - carried out on the ground by BTA overseas offices, and

until recently by the GCI Group, whose contract ended this month - was

financed by the £14.2m emergency government fund earmarked for the

promotion of tourism in Britain.



Knowing that the bulk of promotional efforts would be in vain as long as

foot-and-mouth had not been fully eradicated, campaigns were aimed at

next year. As a result the BTA hopes to be able to accommodate the

additional downturn caused by events in New York and Washington.



But of course the plans must be modified. BTA press officer for

international PR strategy Sarah Long points out that efforts after

foot-and-mouth had come under the banner of 'Britain is Open'. Now it

isn't quite so simple. Mindful of the anger heaped on any organisation

seen to be engaged in frivolous activities in the current climate, BTA

has put a range of activities on hold. These include a low-fares

promotion in Germany, in partnership with British Airways; a tactical ad

campaign in the Netherlands, its 'Reel Britain' holiday video

competition and a wide range of PR and promotional activities in the

US.



One event most apparently susceptible to cancellation will go ahead as

planned, albeit with a few slight changes. The UKinNY programme of

concerts and arts profiling British culture, due to run from 14 to 28

October, will go ahead. But it will do so under the banner of UKwithNY

to demonstrate solidarity with the traumatised city.



Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York businesses were consulted before any

decision was made to ensure it would not be seen as inappropriate.



Meanwhile the authority is relying on local offices to gauge when the

time is right to launch its PR programmes for next year. This includes a

strong focus on countryside and rural areas with its Hidden Britain

campaign, as well as using the Queen's Golden Jubilee and Britain's

perceived 'quirkiness' as marketing opportunities for next year.



The private sector, meanwhile, seems happy to take its lead from the

BTA, which is officially co-ordinating Britain's communications

response.



The BITOA's Tobias says his organisation had fully signed up to the

BTA's communications strategy for recovery: 'We always work closely with

the BTA - but now we're working more closely than ever,' he says.



Tobias sums up the tightrope tourism PROs must walk: 'We are telling

members to get out there and promote like mad - as soon as they feel

it's appropriate.'



This kind of balancing act requires nerve and the will to take steps

forward if jobs are to be saved and companies prevented from going out

of business. Communicators in the tourism sector need to focus on the

route across the chasm.



VISITOR ATTRACTIONS



As an attraction that relies on Americans to make up around 40 per cent

of its visitors, the Tower of London has been predictably vulnerable to

the after-effects of the attacks on the US. The attraction's response

has been to refocus its communications strategy on attracting domestic

tourists.



Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) - the charity that runs the tower and other

attractions such as Hampton Court Palace - says visitor figures at the

tower had been down all year. But while they initially dropped by

between 10 and 20 per cent - due to the foot-and-mouth restrictions -

they are now down by an average of 30 per cent.



'We had been looking to improve visitor numbers with an aggressive PR

and marketing strategy in the UK,' says HRP head of press and PR

Jacqueline Gazzard. 'We made a decision to promote Hampton Court Palace

and the Tower of London particularly hard. It's easy to say PR has to

solve the problem, but you still have to have a product to market, so

we've put a lot of effort into working with our conservation and

interpretation teams to make sure we have what the visitor wants.'



This summer's PR strategy - and the one that HRP plans to use next year

- is based around an expanded programme of themed events. Gazzard says

the Fool School at Hampton Court - a series of events and activities

based on the fools who entertained Henry VIII - proved particularly

popular.



Earlier this year the deer park at Hampton Court was closed to protect

animals from foot-and-mouth but media reports suggested the palace had

also closed. Once HRP had countered these reports, attractions started

to make up the shortfall in tourists by tapping into the domestic

market.



That process has now suffered a considerable setback due to the

ramifications of the terror attacks. 'London has gone terribly quiet. We

have to work twice as hard to overcome that,' says Gazzard.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.