TORONTO — As far as timing goes, ExploreGB Virtual 2022 couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, taking place less than a week after the United Kingdom removed all remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions.
VisitBritain’s five-day annual flagship travel trade event, which ran virtually from March 21-25, kicked off with plenty of excitement over the elimination of international travel restrictions, which came into effect on March 18. All travellers are no longer required to complete a passenger locator form to enter the U.K., or take a COVID-19 test. This change, therefore, removes the need for unvaccinated passengers to take a pre-departure test and a day-two post-arrival test.
“Britain is, therefore, truly open for business and our tourism businesses are ready to safely welcome people back and to provide a standout experience,” said Sally Balcombe, VisitBritain/VisitEngland CEO. “This is a great time to book a trip, and we are so pleased that people are feeling a renewed confidence about taking international holidays.
Gavin Landry, VisitBritain Americas – Director, also celebrated the news, noting how the timing will certainly help boost inbound tourism this summer season.
“The travel industry is incredibly important to Great Britain; in 2019, we had over 41 million visits that supported over 200,000 small- to medium-sized enterprises,” said Landry. “Tourism and the visitor economy drives the prosperity of Great Britain. In 2019, it represented over 10% of the gross domestic product, and supported around 3.1 million jobs. Together, we hope to restore those levels and certainly go beyond in future years.”
Like most destinations around the world, Britain saw tremendous losses as a result of the global pandemic. According to Richard Nicholls, Head of Research and Forecasting, VisitBritain, the destination has seen a total loss of over £50 billion in inbound tourism in the past two years.
But things are looking up, especially from the North America market.
“North America is a region where we’ve seen some really strong bookings,” says Nicholls. “We’re only about 1/6 below normal levels in terms of the bookings that are made from North Americans, especially from the U.S. So we’ve been thinking for some time that this is a market that’s likely to lead the recovery, and the numbers that we’ve seen in the last several weeks demonstrate that this is still the case.”
Nicholls noted, however, that it will take some time for Britain to return to 2019 tourism levels. According to “partners at tourism economics,” it will take until 2025 for visitor and spending levels to surpass 2019 pre-COVID levels.
A LANDMARK YEAR
Both Balcombe and Landry agreed that this year will be a landmark one for tourism, thanks to several high-profile events, most notably Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. On Feb. 6, the Queen became the first British Monarch to mark 70 years on the throne, and as such, celebrations will take place throughout the year, culminating in a four-day holiday weekend on June 2-5 that will include public events and community activities.
In Canada particularly, Landry says marketing efforts have focused on the Commonwealth Games, taking place in Birmingham from July 28-Aug. 8. This international multi-sport event for members of the Commonwealth will immediately follow the Queen’s Baton Relay (“think of it as a lighting of the Olympic torch,” says Landry), which is scheduled to arrive in Canada this May.
Also notable this year is Unboxed 2022, taking place across the U.K. from March to October. Dubbed a celebration of creativity, Unboxed will include free, large-scale events, installations and globally accessible digital experiences.
In preparation of these events, Balcombe says that VisitBritain is working on proposals to improve transport and accessibility for more rural destinations, allow more people to access the full range of destinations and festivities across the country. Examples include a new low-cost, low-carbon train service between London and Edinburgh, and the LNER international site, which will make bookings in local language easy.
On a personal note, Balcombe added that this year’s ExploreGB has been particularly poignant as it marked her final time as CEO of VisitBritain.
Thanking all those in attendance and tuning in, she said: “I know that this year we will go from strength to strength raising visitor numbers once again. I am confident that we’ll be able to drive back demand whilst also encouraging people to stay longer and travel further afield across our nations and regions, creating lasting memories for visitors.”
For information on travel requirements to the U.K., click here. For more information on Britain go to www.visitbritain.com.