Trains, planes, and automobiles—that’s what it took for me to make it to this year’s ExploreGB event, a travel trade show hosted by VisitBritain, in Newcastle as “The Beast from the East,” as it was coined, hit England and Scotland with record-breaking snowfall. But that didn’t stop over 350 buyers and 17 international journalists from coming together to bring you the latest on travel trends and travel news happening throughout Great Britain.
To help us better understand the U.S. traveler heading to Great Britain, Richard Nicholls, head of research and forecasting for VisitBritain, shared his stats with us. Nicholls reported that visits from North America to the region are up by 11 percent (although the most recent numbers show a slight decline). The U.S. came in at number 2 for the market with the most visits, coming in after France.
Inbound overall visits to London are up 7 percent year-to-date, the rest of England is up 2 percent in the third quarter and 4 percent year-to-date, and visits to Scotland were up 14 percent with the highest market growth in 2017. Visits to the region are expected to grow 4 percent for 2018 with spending up 6 percent. Nicholls pointed to Newcastle-upon-Tyne as the number one northeast town in England visited, followed by the Durham, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, all also located in the northeast.
He also noted that future travel trends depend on four key elements: 1. inspiration and pre-planning; 2. booking process; 3. connected travel; and 4. evolving travel needs. Nicholls also pointed out to four key trends influencing the way travelers travel including: the “filter bubble,” “locational living,” “performative perfection,” and the “pursuit of real.”
The filter bubble refers to the filter created for future travelers based on personalization algorithms and social networks, making it tougher for tourism products to stay on a traveler’s radar. Basically, future travelers are more exposed to the locations and experiences their friends are posting about and sharing photos for on social media and in their personal networks. Location-based technology, he notes, will help raise awareness of and increase engagement with tourism products by pushing content based on an individual traveler’s whereabouts. For instance, Geo-Tourists is an audio tour site and app that uses GPS data to play informative audio clips around touristic routes and advertises nearby offers and services to users. According to VisitBritain’s findings, about 45 percent of U.S. travelers are interested or very interested in a service/device that detects their location and suggests interesting things for them to spontaneously see and do in the nearby area. Performative perfection refers to products travelers are seeking that can help boost their social capital when sharing images or stories on social media. And, the pursuit of real refers to genuine, authentic tourism products being preferred by future travelers as they seek to get rid of the “tourist” stigma, and instead experience the destination as a local. Almost 60 percent of U.S. travelers noted they agree strongly or agree when asked: “When I go on holiday, the most important thing for me is to experience the authentic culture of a place.” Travelers are seeking to “get under the skin of a place and not just do the traditional tourist behavior. Doing some of the living like a local, as well as some of the regular tourist behaviors such as taking a selfie at a known monument” is what they’re seeking during their travels.
He also pointed to the “leisure upgrader” as an influencer, which is when travelers combine entertainment with learning something new as well. Travel is being seen more as a way of “self-improvement.” In addition, Nicholls added when asked about solo travel trend and how it affects visitors to Great Britain, “it is a global phenomenon. We don’t have the numbers, but it is growing.”