Is it time for a cool change? The man responsible for selling Britain overseas reveals the most effective images to use when it comes to attracting the tourist dollars. By Stephanie France

Like all buzz phrases, ’Cool Britannia’ has taken on a life of its own since it was first coined in late 1996. David Quarmby, chairman of the British Tourist Authority (BTA)claims BTA invented the phrase to express the current renaissance in British pop, film, fashion and architecture.

Like all buzz phrases, ’Cool Britannia’ has taken on a life of its

own since it was first coined in late 1996. David Quarmby, chairman of

the British Tourist Authority (BTA)claims BTA invented the phrase to

express the current renaissance in British pop, film, fashion and


It has since been appropriated by New Labour, among others, and woven

into their own agendas.

Nevertheless, the Cool Britannia concept has proved to be a huge PR coup

for the BTA in its attempt to rebrand Britain. The organisation, which

receives a Government grant of pounds 35 million, sells Britain as a

tourist destination out of 44 tourist offices in 36 countries. It also

gets an additional pounds 17 million from its partnerships with various

hotel groups, airlines and city councils. Tourism from abroad is worth

over pounds 12 billion a year to the UK, which is ranked fifth in the

World Tourism League.

Since Cool Britannia became part of popular parlance, the phrase has

been bandied about by many different groups. Does Quarmby worry, for

instance, that because of this BTA may appear to be overtly backing New


Quarmby discounts this notion. ’Our starting point is to ensure we sell

Britain as a tourist destination, there are no political overtones to

our campaigns at all,’ he says. ’We are delighted to have launched the

rebranding of Britain at a time when the Government and other

institutions which present Britain to the world, such as the Foreign

Office and the British Council, were thinking about the image of


While BTA, the British Council and the Foreign Office are obviously

singing from the same hymn sheet, there are others who may be less

circumspect in their use of Cool Britannia. Given that one cannot

copyright language, is Quarmby concerned the phrase may become a parody

of itself from overuse, undoing BTA’s hard work?

’We don’t tend to use the phrase Cool Britannia very much in our

overseas marketing,’ confesses Quarmby, although he admits there is

always the possibility of a media backlash.

Public relations has played a pivotal role in BTA’s rebranding of

Britain campaign, not least because above-the- line advertising is

restricted for financial reasons to just four markets - US, France,

Germany and Japan.

Quarmby explains: ’Except in specific circumstances, PR is much more

cost-effective than above-the-line advertising.’

Most people would think it ludicrous that Britain, with all its

diversity, could be branded and then sold abroad like a tin of beans,

but Quarmby says that, essentially, Britain is just like any other

product. ’Although it seemed rather daunting, in the end it was no

different to finding the brand values of any other product or service,’

he says.

Starting in late 1996, BTA carried out focus groups in six countries to

try to discover what visitors thought of Britain and its four

’sub-brands’ - Scotland, Wales, England and London. The research

revealed that the modern image of Britain embraced both the old and the

new. This information formed the basis of the rebranding campaign and

the design of the new logo. Both were launched at a propitious time for


Quarmby says: ’The logo and the brand values were launched in autumn

1997. It was brilliant timing, Tony Blair was talking about his New

Labour, New Britain vision and Demos (the left wing think-tank) had just

published a report saying we could get more out of Britain if we

combined the modern with the traditional.’

Quarmby says all this helped to reinforce BTA’s own campaign. The

substance of the rebranding campaign, which is ongoing, takes the form

of a number of booklets, magazines and maps. They are used by BTA’s

overseas offices as tools to generate interest and excitement in the

media. Tourists can also pick up copies at BTA offices. The literature

includes The Rock and Pop Map, detailing rock landmarks around the

country, Literary Britain, which shows the birthplace of famous

novelists and the settings for their novels and the Movie Map, listing

the locations of the UK’s best films and TV dramas. BTA also publishes a

number of glossy magazines, such as UK: The Guide, aimed at young,

trendy visitors, and Style and Design, aimed at the more affluent

thirty-something market.

For major launches, Quarmby frequently travels to BTA’s overseas

offices, giving back-up support to staff and interviews to foreign


The journalists are also invited to Britain for press trips.

Not every new product is launched in all 36 markets. ’When targeting

foreign media, we are specific. We know for example, that US families

are not a strong market for Britain, but we do know that 45- to

55-year-olds and 18- to 25-year- old East Coast Americans are.’

The overseas offices play a crucial role in organising each


Staff are responsible for tailoring each launch to their specific

market, after receiving approval from London. Often overseas staff come

up with bright ideas, which Quarmby says are then rolled out across the


For example, the German office devised a booklet entitled Britain Good

Value, listing budget days out, accommodation and shopping venues. This

launch was particularly relevant because of the current strength of the


Finally, BTA’s overseas offices provide information services to the

public and the trade, gather market intelligence for BTA, including

details on the eating and leisure habits of particular


Quarmby is a self-confessed public relations enthusiast. He joined BTA

two years ago from Sainsbury’s where he was joint managing director.

Prior to this, he worked for London Transport as managing director of

London Buses. Quarmby says he learnt about corporate PR in these two

jobs. On behalf of Sainsbury’s, he was involved in trying to persuade

Parliament to allow a free vote on Sunday trading in 1992, a campaign

which was won by a handful of votes.

Quarmby says he takes a hands-on approach to his role of chairman of

BTA. When he first joined, he spent the first few weeks touring the

country ’touching and feeling the tourism experience’.

’There is no substitute for having a ground-level understanding of what

the industry is about and finding out what the people who run tourism on

the ground feel is important to them,’ he insists.

As Britain’s chief salesman, Quarmby’s latest job as a UK spokesman is

as a member of Panel 2000, a body of Britons invited by the Government

to become ambassadors.

Quarmby says he hopes to create a synergy between his work for Panel

2000 and the work of BTA.

’The panel is a natural consequence of the Government’s wish to make

sure there is a well-thought out, coherent expression of what Britain is

and that it is carried forward overseas in a consistent way through all

the different bodies which represent Britain abroad. It’s not about

throwing traditional images overboard, it’s about getting those into

balance and making sure that the image that people around the world have

of Britain represent what we all want it to represent.’

It remains to be seen whether Cool Britannia will help rule the hearts

and minds of overseas visitors.

CENTURY DUTY: How to make a millennium

Chairman of BTA is just one of David Quarmby’s hats. He is also chairman

of the English Tourist Board and a director of the New Millennium

Experience, formed to construct and operate the Greenwich Millennium


Quarmby says of Greenwich that it incorporates both the modern and the

traditional, just like his vision of Britain.

’Less than a mile away from the Millennium Dome is historic Greenwich,

with the Maritime Museum and the National Observatory. It is interesting

that the dome, which is very futuristic, and historic Greenwich are both

on the Meridian line. They are a metaphor for the old and the new, which

is the image we are trying to give of Britain.’

But not everyone is so supportive of the Millennium Exhibition - so does

Quarmby think the PR surrounding its launch could have been better

handled? ’The difficulty of the Dome Project was that until its launch

at the end of February, there was a self-imposed silence because of the

crucial task of signing up sponsors. I’m afraid there was just a lot of

silly stories running during the silence. My judgement is that since the

launch, the mood has begun to turn, people are genuinely excited.’ He

admits millennium year would have come a cropper without the support all

the various projects have received from the National Lottery. ’The

National Lottery has been an absolute gift, I couldn’t be doing this job

at a better time. The effect has been to pump billions pounds into the

transformation of Britain’s cultural landscape. It has assisted the

rebuilding and renaissance of many of our cultural assets, such as the

Royal Opera House, and new projects like the Eden Glass House in

Cornwall, the Earth Centre in Doncaster and the National Space Centre in

Leicestershire. All this has completely transformed the tourism product.

There is so much more for people to see and do.’

And he’s not just talking about overseas visitors - Quarmby’s other hat

is chairman of the English Tourist Board, working to promote England at


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