Great Britain aims to welcome 40 million visitors annually by 2020. // © 2014 VisitBritain
Bigger, better and more multi-national than ever before is perhaps the best way to sum up the 2014 Hosted Buyers Marketplace (HBM) held in London last month.
In total, the HBM facilitated approximately 8,500 appointments this year and sent delegates on fam trips to a dozen destinations within England, Scotland and Wales. More than 245 delegates from U.K. travel companies and 228 international buyers met for networking, one-on-one meetings, a cocktail reception and an English garden party-themed dinner at Britain’s iconic Wembley Stadium, home to English football and the FIFA World Cup.
“For the first time, we’ve brought buyers here from Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia,” said Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain. “These are markets that we don’t have a presence in but where people are starting to travel more. Otherwise, the focus is on our key markets, and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve and refine the event.”
The U.S. remains one of Britain’s most critical markets, Dawe revealed during a press conference at the HBM. In 2012, the U.S. was the third biggest inbound market for the U.K. in terms of the number of visitors, after France and Germany, respectively. Moreover, the U.S. was the top-spending market in 2012, ahead of the second most valuable market (France) by a whopping $1.66 billion.
Dawe had plenty more promising news to share with delegates. Last year, Britain witnessed its best year for inbound tourism yet, with approximately 32.9 million visitors that spent approximately $34.9 billion while traveling.
“It’s our ambition to welcome 40 million visitors annually by 2020, with 2014 kicking off that pursuit with a record 2.4 million, a rise of 8 percent from the same period in 2013,” she said.
According to Dawe, part of the boost in tourism came from an elevated perception of Britain, thanks to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, held at various locations in London.
“Because of the friendliness of the Olympic Games, the volunteers, the spectators and what people saw, [potential visitors] perceived us to be more welcoming and more multi-cultural,” she added.
Visitors will have even more reasons to see Great Britain in a whole new light as the destination is preparing for big anniversaries, new attractions and hotel expansions. For starters, the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare takes place this month. Next year visitors can expect celebrations and tours commemorating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday, the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death and the 150 year anniversary of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. Other notable attractions are as follows.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery to Open
The Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill, will open its doors for the first time in 2014. Laverstoke Mill is located less than 60 miles from London in rural Hampshire. Guests will learn the story behind the craftsmanship of Bombay Sapphire in a state-of-the-art, sustainable distillery and stunning glasshouses designed by Heatherwick Studio. The distillery is surrounded by the Hampshire countryside and the River Test runs right through the site.
New ‘Shrek’ Attraction
Merlin Entertainments has joined forces with DreamWorks Animation to create a new visitor attraction based on the most successful animated film franchise of all time, ‘Shrek.’ The attraction will open at London’s County Hall, South Bank, in the summer of 2015 and will be the first of an initial rollout of six attractions worldwide over the next nine years.
Commemorating the Magna Carta
Next year will mark 800 years of the Magna Carta, and history buffs can see one of the original copies of the document in London’s Lincoln Castle. One of the finest examples of a Norman Castle in England, the structure has started undergoing extensive renovations slated for completion by 2015. The renovation project will include building a world-class exhibition center for the Magna Carta, and new parts of the castle will open, including the men’s prison. The county of Kent in southeast England is home to a 1300s copy of the Magna Carta in the historic market town of Faversham. Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire will present a Magna Carta 2015 program of events, including a new interactive exhibition experience that will be open daily throughout 2015.
Dreamland Heritage Park to Open
Set in the seaside town of Margate in Kent, Dreamland Heritage Park is a 21st-century tourist attraction based around the Scenic Railway rollercoaster and Cinema building. It will be the world's first amusement park with historic rides that will authentically recreate the seaside amusement parks of yesteryear.
London Increases Luxury Accommodations
Located on the historic South Bank of the River Thames, The Shangri-La Hotel, The Shard is set to open this spring and will be the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel group’s third in Europe, following debuts in Paris in 2010 and Istanbul in 2013. As the tallest hotel in Western Europe and the first high-rise hotel in London, the Shangri-La will occupy levels 34 to 52 of the 72-story Shard building.
Sea Containers House, situated on the banks of the River Thames, is being developed into the Mondrian London. It holds a striking presence between the OXO Tower and Blackfriars Bridge. The main lobby will feature a giant, external and internal copper-clad wall, inspired by the hull of a ship, which will run from outside the building and lead guests to the entrance hall within. The vast ground floor area includes two riverside restaurants and a breakfast bar.
England is set to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup, just one event that is part of what is fast becoming “The Golden Decade of Sport” for the country. Venues will be located all over Old Blighty, from Plymouth in the southwest to Newcastle in the northeast. Travel agents can book stadium tours of many of the venues to further enhance their clients’ itineraries.
As for next year’s HBM, VisitBritain is planning a few changes and additions of its own. The official announcement is forthcoming, but Dawe revealed that HBM 2015 will take place at a different time of year. She also expects it to be even bigger than this year’s event, with more buyers and more experiential opportunities.