Comment: We have come a long way since 1977

Deirdre Wells, chief executive of UKinbound, looks back at the Annual Convention, which asked the question: ‘What’s Next for Tourism?’

Last week, more than 260 delegates converged on the city of Cardiff for UKinbound’s Annual Convention, which took place at Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel & Spa. The three-day event has been held annually by the association since 1983 in locations such as Blackpool, Leicester and Plymouth.

Focusing on ‘What’s Next for Tourism?’, the schedule included notable speakers, industry updates and forecasts, a glamorous awards evening and the chance to secure new business, make new contacts and reconnect with old friends.

Wales is currently celebrating its Year of the Sea, and hosting UKinbound’s Annual Convention provided the travel trade with the opportunity to build Welsh connections and explore new business opportunities.

I told delegates how far the association has come since 1977 (founded as BITOA) and highlighted how it now has more credibility and a stronger representation to government, along with a larger membership across all regions of the UK. Chair Mark McVay outlined future goals and advocacy priorities for UKinbound.

New for this year, day one included a panel debate featuring experts from across the industry which included Denis Wormwell (VisitEngland), Steve Ridgway (VisitBritain/VisitEngland), Jason Thomas (Welsh Government) and Sean Taylor (ZipWorld). Discussion ranged from the perennial topic of the impact of Brexit on tourism, particularly on our labour force, connectivity and arrangements at the ports and airports. The challenges of securing good quality accommodation to meet demand and increasing customers’ knowledge of the product outside London were also recognised. On the whole, the panel was optimistic about the industry’s ability to adapt to challenges and to continue to grow. Securing a Tourism Sector Deal as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy was seen as critical to securing that success.

PY Gerbeau, visiting professor at London Business School & Imperial College, took to the stage as keynote speaker, drawing on his experiences heading X-Leisure, Britain’s largest leisure company, and lecturing MBA students on the experience economy. PY discussed what a tourism business needs to do to survive: be adaptable and flexible; lock up enough resources to ensure you can weather a crisis; and the importance of protecting your people and your brand  – your most important asset is your front-line staff.

On the second day delegates took part in B2B workshops, alongside an exhibition of local suppliers including Surf Snowdonia, the Royal Mint Experience and the Millennium Centre. Following this, and new for 2018, delegates could attend one of four Business Seminar Sessions covering subjects including translating experiences into bookable product, The Wales Way, The Connected Traveller, and a VAT and legal update.

CEOs attended a roundtable discussion on policy issues with Stephen Darke, acting deputy director for tourism heritage and cultural diplomacy at DCMS and Rob Holt, from the Welsh government. The discussion was wide-ranging, focusing on the opportunities and challenges facing the industry including Brexit, Britain’s airport capacity, competitiveness of the UK’s visa regime, taxation, overcrowding, and regional visitation.

UKinbound’s annual Awards for Excellence Gala Dinner was held on the final evening at the stunning National Museum Wales. Comedian Rod Woodward provided the after-dinner entertainment and handed out the awards which included AC Group (Tour Operator of the Year); Cutty Sark (Individual Attraction of the Year); and Visit Greenwich (Destination Marketing Organisation of the Year). The Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Tourism was given to Karin Urban, Hotels & More Ltd.

Following the closing remarks on the third and final day, delegates embarked on a familiarisation trip to noted Cardiff attractions including the Principality Stadium, Cardiff Castle and Cardiff Bay.

Next year’s Annual Convention will be held in Glasgow, for the first time in 31 years.