I had a very good day at the Best of Britain & Ireland Show at the NEC in Birmingham on Wednesday – all part of British Tourism Week. I met old friends and colleagues, made new acquaintances and business contacts and heard some very interesting comments and details during the Ministers Question Time.
Well that was my experience anyway – having spoken though to a number of ‘suppliers’ exhibiting there the good feeling was not necessarily shared. Remarks about buyer numbers being light and not enough traffic in general seem to be sentiments shared by quite a few. You have to remember that I am not a buyer of product or press so while my networking provided some interesting opportunities for me, it didn’t necessarily benefit the products and destinations who exhibited there directly.
Putting on a B2B event such as BoBI is not a cheap exercise neither for the organisers nor the attendees. I do have to wonder whether the time has come to call it a day on this particular event and look for new ways to market our great Britain.
There are very successful B2B tourism shows out there – I used to attend ATE, the Australian Tourism Exchange when I was buying product for a former employer (a Global Student Travel Company) and I understand it is still the place to be if you are involved in selling or marketing Australia. It was a packed week full of non-stop meetings all pre-arranged so you had your schedule sorted and homework on both sides could be done.
You had an average of 20 meetings a day over a 3-4 day period plus educationals and it was go go go. It was always a busy but fruitful week and the highlight on your calendar. Okay, Tourism Australia puts a lot of money into it as it is a mammoth exercise getting literally much of the world downunder (a few thousand perhaps). But they had a lot of help from industry partners – the flights and hotels are all covered by suppliers (who see it as a way to show off their product) and so many other industries who see the value of the professionals attending contribute too such as drinks (vineyards), entertainment and shopping companies.
VisitBritain doesn’t have the cash or resource to do it in that grand way. And that being the case, if you can’t do it really well then let’s find a new way to do it within the resources that are available. And to a lesser extent, perhaps BoBI is just tired.
We can’t ignore tour operators, travel agents and press of course but we can be smarter with our spend and time with them. For tour operators and travel agents, a series of regular regional educationals with short, concentrated B2Bs seems to me a great way to show off what great product we have here (and rally the industry to work more closely together particularly in light of what’s happening with many of the tourist boards).
And for Press and PR, I would be using the Social Media card and inviting best bloggers and tweeters over for their own event. VisitBritain has proven how good they are at Social Media having been named the Most Influential Tourist Board in the World so why not use the best tools and expertise available to do the job.
I know the message in this blog will not be popular with a lot of the industry and there will be a lot of flak for saying let’s do away with BoBI. But we need to be honest and despite what the Minister of Tourism says about the huge sum of money the Government is putting behind Tourism (let’s be real Mr Penrose, this £100m amount means tourism budgets have been severely cut further over the next 4 years), we have to be smarter with the little bit of money we do have. Change is good and with some creativity and online tools we can make a much better job of showing Tour Operators, Travel Agents and Press & PR how great we are so visitors come flocking back from overseas and domestically staycations and daycations grow and grow.