One of the authors of the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum this week, has branded Britain an ‘appalling’ tourist destination. Though coming seventh out of 139 countries studied, poor marketing, among other factors, let the country down.
Seventh place was earned largely by high standards of public health, the current level of air services and availability of car hire, as well as an improvement in price due to the lower exchange rate of sterling over the past two years. Set against this, the UK was placed 84th on government expenditure on travel and tourism, at 43rd on the effectiveness of its marketing and branding, and at 46th even on the timeliness of providing tourism data.
Reactions are as expected. VisitBritain hit back (rather weakly) to defend its tourism strategy, claiming that, with the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics coming up, there has never been a better time to come to the UK as a tourist.
The idea that anywhere outside London might be worth seeing in its own right is obviously a difficult one for these folk to process. Their timeline of British history manages to stretch 'Romano Britain' to 1065, neatly avoiding any mention of those troublesome Saxon chaps. (Please remember that our taxes are paying for this rubbish.) Meanwhile, Britain’s top 10 regional foods are said to include 3 from Scotland, 2 from Wales and 1 from Cornwall. After deducting the generic category of ‘British cheeses’, that leaves just 3 from the whole of England and 2 of those are from the Thames estuary. Ten words about Cheddar cheese are all that we get.
The end of cheap oil will happen within the lifetime of many now living, so if anyone is going to see the world they may as well do it now. With its history and landscape, music, food and drink, Wessex has plenty of wonderful opportunities that cry out for creative marketing. If our tourist industry would just get up off its knees, stop pandering to a London-centred view of Britain and start selling Wessex for all it’s worth. And not just abroad. Watch television for any length of time and lush advertisements for Scotland or Wales will show up. Where’s Wessex in all of this? Largely silent and invisible, as ever, by our own suicidal choice. Let's pull together and put Wessex on everyone's map. If we want them to come, the least we can do is let them know that we're here.