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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.