Saturday, 28 March 2009

Best of Britain - best of banal more like

I come to praise British tourism, not bury it. No, really, I do. It's an honourable vocation and one I'm happy to support. That's why I paid my own way down to Excel in London's Docklands a few days ago to attend Best of Britain & Ireland, a trade show devoted to domestic tourism that has replaced the British Travel Trade Fair. 
Thursday was press day and I was keen to find some strong new ideas and angles on stories as I had in previous years. Stories that I would go on to sell to my editors and, in turn, help to promote the superb array of Great British tourism activities on offer in this country.
On Thursday afternoon at the near-deserted press room I collected the press pack, including a news release that quotes Sandie Dawe, Deputy Chief Executive of Visit Britain thus: "Best of Britain & Ireland ... could be a real tipping point for British tourism."
A real tipping point? Walking round the exhibition, the sound of tumbleweed blowing by my feet, it felt like British tourism had already tipped off and given up.
The problems for a freelance writer like me? Attendance was very low; hardly any press officers from regional tourist boards on their respective stands (those who did turn up all seemed to leave early); nobody had any fresh ideas; no creative vision; and no attempt to capitalise on the golden opportunity that this year presents given the currency situation in the Eurozone.
Visit Britain themselves are keen to talk up the idea that 5m extra Brits are considering taking a holiday at home this year. But, after this woeful experience, I'm more inclined to bin a UK break in favour of a cheap package deal in Turkey, Egypt or Croatia - three places where our pounds still has some purchasing power. That would also trump Britain on the weather and cost issue too.
I would have come away totally empty handed were it not for Visit Wales, whose professional press officer met at the stand, discussed story ideas and helped with contacts to arrange forthcoming projects. I came away with two concrete story ideas to progress and several more to ponder. Isn't that the whole point of a press day?
But where the hell was everyone else? Experience Nottinghamshire didn't show up at all, opting instead to exhibit at the Outdoors Show at Birmingham's NEC. Did they know something I didn't? Is it simply all over for this event as a launching pad for the UK media to report on domestic tourism?
The Maison de la France do this kind of thing rather well with their France Meets the Media events. So why can't Visit Britain with all the resources at its disposal? 
If I attend next year - and that's a big if right now - then here's what I expect from it:
* Well-briefed press officers on stands to deal with journalist enquiries and promote their region
* A brief ideas document on each regional stand outlining new events, projects, hooks, angles to help writers formulate must-commission proposals
* Some kind of evening networking event with media and regional tourism PRs, plus people from Visit Britain, Wales, Ireland, Scotland to set the proactive and collaborative tone for the daytime talking shop.
I'm not getting ideas above my station here. I know that I'm just one of hundreds of active freelancers but, if I feel bitterly disappointed about my experience, how many other writers feel the same? 
If anyone would actually like to respond, then please leave your comments below or email me direct (find contacts at my website
We'll be discussing what went wrong as part of my regular travel slot on the Duncan Barkes programme on City Talk this week. On air Friday morning from 10.15am.
Over to you.


  1. For balance here's the response from the PR team at the show:

    Hi David

    I've just seen your facebook posts on the Best of Britain & Ireland and I'm sorry you were disappointed at the event and the PR function.

    We did have a press breakfast as you know on the Thursday which you were invited to and where you would have had the opportunity to meet representatives from the different tourist boards. The press room was very busy most of the day, but understandably got quieter towards the end of the day. We had a trade networking event that evening and for next year we'll bear in mind that it would be worth opening this up to media, though this year we didn't have the capacity.

    We and the majority of the exhibitors have been really pleased at the footfall we've seen over the last two days (which was 40% up on BTTF). In the first day 3,000 squat lobsters, 200 boxes of mussels, 200 platters of seafood were sold and the bar is stocked with 60 kegs of real ale, Suffolk Cyder and Guinness. Good Food Ireland sold out of soda bread in the first day and had to go to Richard Corrigan's fine dining restaurant in London to bake an emergency extra batch for the rest of the week.

    The consumer days kicked off today and have been a really vibrant celebration of what Britain & Ireland has to offer. We've had Mamma Mia!, a Welsh harpist and Irish dancers performing on the main stage, beer tasting with CAMRA and the restaurants have been brimming with people enjoying the Scottish and Irish fare - plus lots more of course.

    I'm sorry you had a disappointing experience but if I can supply you with any more information that would inspire an update / slightly different perspective, that would be great. I have lots of fun pictures I can share with you.

    Would be good to hear from you


  2. If you went late, then perhaps they were shutting up shop - although I never understand why organisations lose interest before the end of the show they have paid so much to attend.

    To be honest, I wonder what use these trade fairs really are. Perhaps I'm doing something wrong but for years I used to attend them all faithfully, handing out cards and chatting to stallholders in search of story ideas. They usually gave me leaflets which I could have got from the stall whether they were there or not, or pushed the same story ideas which had been in all their press releases to everyone.

    In about 15 years of this I only ever got one single story, and that came because I was invited on a press trip just to check the place out, which led to my writing several features about it.

    Now, I don't bother with trade fairs unless I'm doing absolutely nothing else that day and am near enough to drop by.

  3. > This message sent to me by one of the regional PRs who did attend.

    Hi David
    Hope you are well.
    Thanks for your email. You didn’t miss much on Friday I tell you. It was really quiet on Friday but fortunately I had to leave about 1pm to be back at a decent time. I’ll be finding out today how the consumer days went too.