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Tourist industry: What’s in store for 2013?

What is the outlook for UK’s tourist industry in 2013? How will attractions around the country fare after a roller coaster of a year in 2012? And what are people’s holiday intentions – is the recession still the determining factor and staycations a major option? Many overseas visitors came to London for the Olympics but many more stayed away as predicted. Will the glow of London 2012 and the Queen’s Jubilee bring them back in huge numbers?

When the pundits of the tourist industry gathered in London in January to make their predictions, they agreed on two things. The Olympic factor seemed to be paying off and the overseas market is already growing steadily. But in terms of the British the biggest influence on travel decisions in 2013 will be the weather. Not the weather now, but the memories of a long wet and cold summer. So out goes the staycation and back comes a holiday in the sun…at any price.

That doesn’t mean that there won’t be short breaks in British cities and countryside, nor days out to popular and well run attractions. But it means that this market will be as competitive as ever. One thing people are clear about: there isn’t a lot of money to go around. So the sponsors of the Tourism Society meeting, research company BDRC Continental confirmed that in their most recent survey, fewer people than last year had booked a UK holiday. But for some there was increased interest in luxury destinations as they had put off taking breaks in 2012 with so much to see and were now ready for a treat.

Museums, galleries and heritage attractions enjoy a healthy mix of visitor types depending on where they are but central London attractions are more dependent on overseas visitors than those outside the capital. Many saw their visitor figures drop by as much as 50 per cent during the crucial months of July and August last year, when overseas and UK visitors spent their time at Stratford, Excel or other sporting venues. And others were put off coming into London thinking it would be too crowded. However some venues have recovered well with blockbuster exhibitions such as Damien Hirst at Tate Modern and Hollywood Costumes at the V&A. The experience outside London was extremely varied with many attractions having a reasonable year but without a doubt the weather put a dampener on most day trips. Who can forget that rain-sodden River Pageant in June?

ALVA, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, has identified four factors that made attractions stand out from the crowd last year. Investment is number one – that means refreshing the product and the marketing mix. Those who ‘went local’ did best – keeping their friends, members and neighbours interested and committed during difficult times. We have heard about ‘authenticity’ before and it keeps popping up – people want to feel that they are sharing a bit of history. Telling people stories and giving them a chance to learn a skill are not new ideas either but not everyone has got the hang of that. And finally the staff….as Sebastian Coe said right at the start of the Olympics, “what people are going to remember are the people they met and who looked after them”.

Where do we go from here? Well, here is a new expression from a digital expert: “SoLoMo.” That means social media, go local, and go mobile. There’s a huge growth in the use of search engines and online bookings from mobile phones and tablets, and a slower increase from home and business computers. There are now more mobile phones than there are people in the UK! So if you are going to make one investment this year, it should be a website which works on mobiles and tablets. This is becoming easier and possibly less expensive with new technology which enables websites to adapt according the size of the screen.

As the number of consumer- led review websites such as Trip Advisor increase, something called ‘choice paralysis’ is apparently setting in through information overload! But these sites have enormous influence all the same and attractions must keep an eye on reviews and respond to protect their reputation when threatened by rogue reviews or indeed by any honest feedback.

So while we can do nothing about the weather, there is a lot of marketing and product tweaking to be getting on with to ensure that 2013 is a good year!