With Brexit looming large and a constant stream of media reporting on the disruption this will cause to all of our summer holiday plans, this year is set to be a pivotal year for the Staycation. It’s anticipated that around 74 per cent of Britons will stay in the country this year, soaring from 56 per cent last year.
With Staycations in 2017 bringing in an estimated £23.7 billion to the UK economy, the potential for UK destinations is huge. The UK is back in fashion as a desirable holiday destination, and as such competition for companies to attract these new customers will be high. But is the industry ready to make the most of the opportunity? We put the question to two of the senior team at Mr B & Friends.
Adam Partridge, Strategy & Planning Director
“Whilst we can moan about the food and weather til the cows come home, one of the other chief offenders is the fact that our general attitude and delivery of customer service still tends to lag behind that of other countries. But as the world gets smaller, more people travel and widen their frames of reference, many UK hotels, resorts and restaurants have upped their game. And whilst there’s still plenty that aren’t up to scratch, there’s plenty for us Brits to get excited about and even be proud of.
Some destinations are nailing the Staycation brand experience already. One that stands out for me is Bluestone in Pembrokeshire. A 500 hectare resort set in Bluestone National Park, or the ‘Welsh Centre Parks’ as I’ve often heard it referred to. For me, they’ve mastered all aspects of their ‘brand’, from positioning and visual identity through to the total experience they provide their guests. Everything feels slick and well-drilled without ever being overbearing. In particular, the attention they pay to delivering an outstanding and consistent customer experience feels central to their success. Whether you’re having a conversation with the the check-in staff, the bar manager, or the cleaners shipped in for the weekend change-over, you’re greeted by the same sense of polite cheeriness and professionalism.
There’s a real sense of everybody pulling in the same direction, which totally flies in the face of the traditional perception of British customer service. It also demonstrates the importance, and the power, of getting your basics right. Of course you need a good product to start with, but if you then overlay quality branding across all touchpoints, and prioritise your customer experience, you’re going to make your guests happy. And happy guests will tell others about their positive experience – there’s no better way to build referral.
For me they’re a great example of a UK holiday destination that is on par with its European counterparts, come rain or shine.”
Kate Gorringe, Creative Director
“As Brexit hovers ominously on the horizon and people recall the hazy glow of the glorious summer of 2018, Staycations are suddenly a viable choice for many who might not have given staying in the UK a second thought. But I question whether this is a long term, sustainable proposition or just a blip which the UK tourism market hopes to piggyback onto. What is UK tourism doing to hold our attention, and be the bedrock of our future happy memories?
Being based in Bristol, right by the M5, the snarl of traffic that builds every Friday from April to October is a constant reminder that if a Staycation calls then Devon and Cornwall are the default destinations. No matter that, in the six hours of traffic they endure from the home counties, these Staycationers could have made it to spectacular Pembrokeshire, Norfolk or Northumberland. If we stay then it ‘must’ be the South West. You have to admire the region’s self image – they seem to have tapped into something other regions have failed to inspire.
Another Staycation issue is the perception of the UK as being the budget alternative – think uninspiring local takeaways, beachfront stores selling plastic tat and holiday parks. Brands need to be appealing to the more discerning customer, who may for the first time be considering spending a substantial amount of cash on a UK break. I recently went to Snowdonia and realised that after four days I’d spent a total of £8.60. I’d brought my food with me, the town lacked quality restaurants and the attractions didn’t allow my dog. It’s not enough to advertise picturesque landscapes – how can brand tourism engage people on the days it rains or keep them coming back?
And we can’t ignore the weather either. Instead we need to look at our strengths and champion them. We have more than our fair share of stunning coastlines and cultural richness, yet our self-deprecation holds us back from owning them. I’m not one for chest-beating often but I think, for tourism’s sake that needs to change. Be more ‘100% New Zealand’ if you like. Their weather is miserable too, and Snowdonia is just as awe-inspiring. There’s a real place for place branding.
So for me, Brand Britain needs to go on the offensive. Inject some pride and confidence about just how bloody great, Great Britain actually is and then rally the troops behind it. If UK tourism wants to attract and retain UK visitors, you’ve got to look to what drives them to Europe. Yes it’s the rich experiences, choice, quality of food and a warm welcome but most importantly it’s a true sense of pride in local culture. We go to Italy because it’s Italy! We know what it stands for, we have an emotional connection to the very idea of Italy. Cornwall seems to have tapped into this emotion – people write novels about what Cornwall evokes. How can your offer emotionally connect? Ultimately a good beach isn’t going to be the deciding factor. Everyone’s got beaches. What have you got?”
In conclusion, there is a chance for the UK to use Brexit as a chance to reset UK dwellers choice of holiday destination, for good. But to do this creating a compelling and consistent brand experience is the key. If you’d like to discuss your challenges in this area then we’d love to hear from you.