Comment: Cleethorpes or Calgary? You choose.

Domestic tourism expert Steve Reed urges tourist boards not to neglect homegrown core markets.

Far-flung long-haul markets are increasingly important to the UK tourism industry – and the travel trade is no exception.

Many parts of the country are benefitting from greatly increased numbers of visitors from China, India and the Gulf. Independent travellers, groups, you name it.

And the decision by London and Partners to rationalise their approach by ‘moving away from the domestic travel trade’ is a well-trodden path by tourist boards and agencies, both national and regional.

It does make sense to spend your limited resources in the areas where a good return on investment can be expected.

But in this case, I think it needs to be understood not in isolation, nor just in the context of this one important tourism leader [London and Partners], but through the prism of a certain mindset I’ve noticed over the years.

I’ve worked in tourism since 1990 – firstly as a tourism officer and then from 1999 under the banner of Steve Reed Tourism on group travel and coach tourism activities all over Great Britain.

I’ve been to hundreds of travel trade shows, exhibitions, workshops, promotions and launches and have seen the great benefits of having proactive destinations and tourist boards – or their modern equivalents – helping to provide a backcloth to the group travel and coach tourism activities of their many partners: hotels, attractions, retail and so on.

You know, the sort of businesses that like and depend on coach parties and groups – or just plain domestic UK tourism – as a vital part of their success.

What I’ve learnt is that for some of these bodies – not all thankfully – is that the domestic travel trade is frankly just not exciting enough for them.

They’d rather be somewhere far more exotic doing what they see as vital long-haul promotion, sometimes with their partners.

And in many cases that’s perfectly justifiable.

But c’mon, how can Calgary realistically compete with Cleethorpes or Buffalo with Barnsley?

We’ve worked right across the UK for nearly 20 years and have been inspired by some brilliant local authority tourism departments, businesses, consortia and tourist boards – not least, for example, Visit Guildford; Visit Southport; Southern Wales Tourism; Visit Liverpool; The English Riviera BID Company; Devon Attractions [DATA]; Ena Mill Retail and partners in Greater Manchester and countless others.

They each deserve their success in generating business by doing the unglamorous and often unsung graft at domestic trade shows, arranging familiarisation trips, visiting coach and tour companies in their own offices, mail-shots, targeted advertising campaigns and many other tried and trusted techniques to access what they know are their core markets.

Yes, core markets…customers that can be realistically targeted through the least line of resistance and will be most open to their solicitations.

That’s not to say that they have avoided opportunities such as those that now exist to make the most of emerging overseas markets. It’s just that they know what actually butters the parsnips.

Sometimes, it’s seemed to me with a few destinations I can think of, is that if it was actually their own money they were spending then their priorities might change.

What’s really going to put bums on seats in that theatre?

What will work best to increase occupancy in those hotels during the shoulder periods? How can we increase footfall in these important retail outlets

So, at the risk of being called an old cynic, I’d suggest that there is a happy balance to be struck by combining domestic travel trade campaigning with elements of emerging overseas promotional work. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As I write, I check progress on the next Steve Reed Tourism group travel activities – coming up it’s fantastic Southport; Super Staffordshire and the gorgeous Cotswolds; Incredible Guildford and the Surrey Hills not to mention historic Oxford and the Bodleian Libraries. Not many stamps on my passport there!

Steve Reed is managing director of Steve Reed Tourism Ltd and a director at the Association of Group Travel Organisers.

stevereedtourism.com