This year’s ExploreGB conference featured the #OMGB social media campaign, which encourages visitors to use the hashtag when posting about Great Britain. // © 2016 Visit Britain
Feature image (above): Tourism leaders at ExploreGB predict that international visits to the region will grow to 36.7 million in 2016. // © 2016 Visit Britain
Roughly 300 U.K. suppliers and 320 international buyers from 40 different countries convened in Liverpool, England, in early March for the second annual ExploreGB conference, hosted by VisitBritain. The event showcased the U.K.’s achievements in 2015, its projected accomplishments for this year and an impressive roster of new campaigns to launch in 2017, all with the goal of establishing the U.K. as a destination apart from beloved London.
#OMGB in 2016
This year, VisitBritain anticipates to grow the number of international visits to 36.7 million, up from 35.8 million in 2015. This was a 4 percent increase on 2014’s numbers and the fifth consecutive year of growth.
“We are London-centric,” said Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain. “Even though we have nearly 3 million visitors to London every year, about 2.2 or 2.3 of those visitors are repeat visitors. We need them to explore more and explore what they are passionate about. We are working hard to get those experiences out, which links into our #OMGB campaign for 2016.”
#OMGB is a social media campaign that kicked off this year, inviting travelers to the U.K. to tag their amazing moments with that hashtag. The end game is to showcase the unique moments accessible only in the destination.
And 2016 will no doubt bring a wealth of #OMGB moments across the British Isles. This year marks the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown, the father of the English garden. A campaign encompassing 170 gardens that will each host a series of festivals and events is set to run throughout 2016. The year is a major one for literary anniversaries in the U.K., as well. 2016 marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, 200 years of Charlotte Bronte, 150 years of Beatrix Potter and 100 years of Roald Dahl.
Northern Ireland is making 2016 the Year of Food and Drink, as the destination is gaining international recognition for its producers, chefs and food.
“We are using 2016 as an opportunity to put Northern Ireland on the stage as a foodie destination, with 365 days of foodie experiences,” said Claire Keenan of Tourism Northern Ireland.
Each month will be devoted to the food experiences that can be enjoyed throughout the country, with events such as potato, beer and oyster festivals; cheese tastings; and more.
Scotland is packing 2016 with celebrations devoted to innovation, architecture and design to help showcase the country’s mix of the traditional and the modern. Twenty-eight architecture- and design-related events have been funded for this year.
Still, London is the most popular destination in the U.K. for American travelers and can’t be overlooked. ZSL London Zoo, a new overnight cabin experience within an upcoming Land of the Lions area within the London Zoo, is now open. Nobu Hospitality will open its first European hotel in the Shoreditch neighborhood. The city is also set to welcome another Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square.
Though this year is only a quarter of the way through, VisitBritain is well on its way to planning 2017 and beyond. The northwestern city of Hull, for example, has been chosen as the U.K. City of Culture for 2017. With that will come a menu of cultural activities, including new public art installations and contemporary spaces, the refurbishment of Holy Trinity Church and an expansion of the area around Trinity Square. There are also plans for a new $50 million music and events center and a major cruise terminal at the Port of Hull.
Additionally, 2017 will be the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. To commemorate her contribution to literature, special celebrations will be held throughout the year at her house museum, Chawton House in Hampshire, England. 2017 will also be the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter books; the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was released on June 26, 1997, and has since created nothing short of literary legend. Book lovers will also want to celebrate the first collection of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which will be 130 years old in 2017.
Wales will ring in 2017 as the Year of Legends, encouraging visitors to explore the country’s history, culture, heritage and mythology. In Scotland, 2017 will mark 70 years of the Edinburgh Festival, which debuted in 1947.
In London, the London Trocadero center in the West End will be transformed into a 583-room Ibis Styles budget hotel.
“We are working hard to get these experiences out there, which ties to our #OMGB campaign,” Rodrigues said. “It’s a regional dispersion game. We have amazing moments, and we want to show what experiences you can have, and where you can have them.”