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Each year, travel advisors from around the world gather for one-on-one meetings with suppliers from the U.K. during ExploreGB, VisitBritain’s flagship annual travel trade event.
This year, however, ExploreGB was held virtually, and while it looked different, the message was stronger than ever: The U.K. is ready to welcome international visitors back as soon as possible — and there’s no doubt American travelers are just as eager to return.
Although global COVID-19 recovery efforts are ongoing, and much of international travel is still at a standstill, clients are beginning to think about traveling again. In a recent survey of travelers, nearly 70% said they are likely to take an international trip this year, and 45% said they definitely will, according to a media presentation by Gavin Landry, director of the Americas for VisitBritain, during the event.
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During the virtual ExploreGB event, we spoke to Sir Patrick McLoughlin, chair of the British Tourist Authority, about how the U.K. is preparing for the return of international travel.
When do you expect international travel to resume?There’s a global travel task force that’s going to report on April 12, but in a “road map” that [U.K. prime minister] Boris Johnson published a couple of weeks ago, he said that international travel won’t start until after May 17.
We’ve been successful in the U.K. with the vaccine rollout — and we hope to have all of the adult population vaccinated by the end of July — so hopefully, by the summer, we might be able to start to see some international visitors because they feel confident to come. I think that's going to be the important part: We want to feel confident to welcome people, but we also want them to be confident when they come over here.
We want to feel confident to welcome people, but we also want them to be confident when they come over here.
What measures are being taken to assure travelers that they will be able to visit safely?I think people will naturally be a bit more cautious, but they also want reassurance that the right kind of measures are being taken, and that's in everybody's best interest. Over the last 12 months, we’ve been getting up [an industry standard and consumer mark called] “We’re Good to Go,” which is a way venues are welcoming people. [They let them know] that all the right things have been taken into account, such as by encouraging mask wearing, hand-washing and using hand sanitizers.
Editor’s Note: VisitBritain recently announced that tourism businesses in the U.K. registered for the We’re Good to Go program can automatically register for the international Safe Travels stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Do you think international travelers will be hesitant to visit popular destinations and attractions due to crowds?We hope [that won’t be the case] by the time we're talking about, but we might also want to try and persuade people to perhaps go further afield than London and the [more popular] places, and look for other places that may be of interest to Americans, or that have American connections. For example, when I was in Parliament, I represented Derbyshire Dales, which has a very big American connection because [John F. Kennedy's sister] Kathleen Kennedy married the present duke's uncle. And of course, we've got “Bridgerton” and “Downton Abbey,” so we’ve got quite a few country houses we can attract people to.
As international visitors return to the U.K., ExploreGB’s Landry expects a focus on outdoor attractions and experiences, as well as visits to the coasts and countryside. Two particularly noteworthy open-air experiences coming in 2021 are the 2,795-mile England Coast Path, which will be the longest continuous coastal walking path in the world; and the 154-acre Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Garden Bridgewater, which is the largest gardening project in Europe and set to open in May near Manchester.Looking even farther ahead, Sally Balcombe, CEO of VisitBritain, notes that 2022 will be a banner year in the U.K., with “attractions and events that cater to just about every visitor imaginable,” including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee; Festival UK* 2022, celebrating art, design and technology from across the U.K.’s four nations; and the Commonwealth Games, a two-week showcase of sporting achievement.“The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on families, the global economy and our industry, but I’m optimistic that we’re on course for recovery … so that as soon as it’s appropriate and safe to do so, we can invite the world to visit the U.K. again,” she said.