Face to Face – Christopher Rodrigues

Having recently stepped down from his role as chairman of VisitBritain after 10 years’ service, Christopher Rodrigues spoke to George Clode about post-Brexit Britain, World Travel Market and what he will miss most about the travel industry.

The government is now working closer than ever with the industry. What more can be done collaboratively to boost tourism in post-Brexit Britain?

We need to recognise that for inbound tourism the fall in the pound is a real opportunity. But Britain’s value needs to be communicated. The world’s consumer media doesn’t wake up in the morning shouting about a weak pound. And our budgets are in pounds, which now buy less when buying marketing programmes overseas. Alongside taking advantage of exchange rates that are in our favour we need to continue to talk about the amazing experiences that can only be had in Britain.

Collaborative working is central to our strategy to deliver an ever more appealing and competitive tourism offering for international and domestic tourists. Working as one team with the Foreign Office, Department for International Trade and the British Council, VisitBritain will continue to deliver our inspirational GREAT marketing campaign.

The slump in sterling has brought with it some short term benefits for inbound tourism. But how can we allay the concerns of migrant/EU workers in this country, and improve the image of Great Britain overseas?

Clarity about future immigration rules will help everyone, not just the travel industry – but we need to be clear that this is not about simply swapping Brits into jobs currently being done by EU workers. The old adage in service industries is hire for attitude, train for skills. It still applies.

Two major themes emerging from our latest market research are the need to reinforce the value message on the back of more affordable sterling, and underline our welcome. Both are being highlighted in our marketing messages and will form a central plank in our future marketing activity.

Last year alone, the country welcomed more than four million French and three million German visitors. In these markets, we are reinforcing our welcome messages through our #OMGB ‘Home of Amazing Moments’ global marketing campaign. We are looking to extend this to other European markets including Spain, Italy and The Netherlands. We will also continue high-profile activity in other key markets including China and the USA, where we will air TV advertising in partnership with Expedia.”

How can we encourage domestic and inbound tourists to explore all regions of Great Britain rather than just London, and how important is this to the industry?

This is an easy one. If your business is outside of London you want foreign visitors as well as domestic. Fortunately our collective efforts are paying off and we are seeing double digit growth in many regions and nations outside of London. But it is a long game to build awareness and we need to keep promoting the regions and develop compelling product with joined up itineraries. Importantly, this needs continued efforts even at times when the pound is weak and the British are more inclined to holiday at home.

One year since the move was announced, what have been the benefits and challenges of merging VisitBritain with VisitEngland?

“There is now better joined up marketing between domestic product international markets and lower overheads. But I remain concerned that the budget for supporting DMOs has been reduced. The big ones are fine but there is real strain in some smaller DMOs just when the weak pound gives them a great domestic market opportunity. The gap needs to be addressed either by local or central government working with the industry. Tourism is a powerful driver of job creation – but the pump needs priming.

What is the value of World Travel Market as a place for VisitBritain/VisitEngland to do business?

WTM is a top event in the travel industry calendar and a valuable business tool for the international travel trade. It allows British travel suppliers and local destinations to get their tourism products and services in front of international buyers from more than 180 countries, forge valuable global business connections and ultimately inspire even more visitors to come and explore all of our nations and regions.

Finally, what are you going to miss most about working in the industry and with VisitBritain?

If I were marooned on a desert island I’d like it to be with some travel people –they are invariably optimistic and see the world for what it can be. I’ll miss the industry – unless a travel business wants me on their board – but I’ll keep travelling. To paraphrase an old saying: you can take the man out of the industry but can’t take travel out of the man!