GCC visitors 'are simply great to have in UK'

“With an average per head spend of £2,733 ($3,575), which is more than four times the average spend from other markets, visitors from the GCC are simply great to have,” Steve Ridgway, CBE, chairman of Britain’s national tourism agency VisitBritain, tells TTN on the sidelines of Explore GB, VisitBritain’s annual flagship travel trade event held in Harrogate, Yorkshire, last month.

Sally Balcombe, VisitBritain CEO tells TTN: “We're going to see a property just outside Harrogate, which is a £40 million ($ million) investment for a 40-bedroom hotel. That's a million pounds per bedroom – and in Yorkshire – in a property called Grantley Hall. Another Yorkshire gem, Swinton Park, is a luxury property where the Gulf market can enjoy shooting and fishing on the massive estate. Also, there is great luxury shopping in Leeds and in Manchester too.”



While luxury has been the most important part of the conversation when visitors from the Gulf countries are concerned, there are some new trends that the UK has also been noticing; “There has been an increasing interest in motorsport from the Gulf countries and high-end automotive experiences are now seeing Gulf travellers trickling into Goodwood Motor Circuit, which is close to the South coast of England.”

VisitBritain is working on a new digital training platform called TXGB, which will seamlessly connect UK suppliers with distributors globally

June will welcome a new Silverstone Heritage Experience at the home of British Motor Racing, Silverstone, in Northamptonshire, central England. The permanent exhibition, housed in a refurbished World War II-hangar on the Silverstone circuit site, will use state-of-the-art interactive displays. 

Balcombe says; “Another key area of interest from the Middle East is football, with Manchester in the lead. The other trend we see is younger people travelling – this is a very new trend. Traditionally, Gulf markets have been all about families travelling together, we are now starting to see younger people traveling more on their own and being more adventurous.”



'Horse Racing - Sport of Kings' is a Discover England-funded project supported by VisitBritain and was launched during the Dubai World Cup on March 31 last year. This is a project that VisitBritain feels is a great fit for the Gulf market, with its historical interest in everything equine.

The product offers luxury travel itineraries for those who enjoy the fashion, glamour and thrills of horse racing. Sport of Kings includes VIP tours of racehorse stud-farms and training stables such as Ascot or Newmarket, as well as visits to world-class heritage and sporting venues including Castle Howard and Manchester United’s Old Trafford. 

Tricia Warwick, director, Asia Pacific, Middle East Africa for VisitBritain, tells TTN: “We are now able to offer behind the scenes experiences that were once, nearly impossible to book.  Complemented with great accommodation in luxury hotels and private houses, as well as dining options in places like picturesque Bray on Thames, near Windsor race course, which plays host to seven restaurants including British chef, Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin, Fat Duck, rated as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. England is thrilled to welcome the GCC to experience the Sport of Kings, this race season.” 

Andrew Stokes leads the development and delivery of the £40 million ($50.85 million) ‘Discover England Fund’, which is in its final year in 2019. He says: “Over 50 per cent of international visitors come to London and feel they’ve seen Britain. How wrong they are!” Discover England Fund has been working tirelessly on the development of world-class product for international visitors, giving them more reasons to visit England, growing business in the regions of England, increasing the competitiveness and ultimately assuring that they are bookable.



This is Visit Britain’s 50th anniversary. It was in 1969, when the British tourist authority was first formed with the aim of promoting Britain to the world and international tourists have grown from somewhere between four or five million to 40 million now.

Balcombe says: “What British tourism offers today is almost unrecognisable to what people experienced all those years ago but the essence hasn't changed. What Britain offers in heritage, in landscapes, in people and in welcome is unique to us and you cannot find it anywhere else.”

Ridgway explains, “Growth in the last decade from the Gulf countries can mainly be attributed to the explosion of connectivity from three key Gulf airlines. The massive expansion of Emirates’ A380 fleet, and the competition from Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways all flying into the same city – London – resulted in a massive amount of lift into the UK. And of course, it's not just for GCC, these airlines feed and connect the rest of the world. Also, because of Emirates’ hub model, they've been able to bring big planes into what previously would have been considered secondary cities, thus traffic is growing in cities other than London as a result.”



Getting travellers from the GCC to explore destinations beyond London is the main challenge that VisitBritain faces today. 

Chairman Ridgway says: “Within just two hours of London, visitors can experience Royal Britain through Windsor, the venue of two royal weddings in 2018; Oxford, made popular by exploring world class and historic universities complemented by a traditional afternoon tea or Newmarket, the birth place of thoroughbred horseracing, a passion shared by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai.

“If arriving in Manchester, visitors are a short drive from England’s iconic Lake District to explore the breath-taking natural landscapes and experience relaxation or adventure with the option of staying in a variety of luxury boutique hotels,” he says.

With all the new product added to the market VisitBritain is working on a new digital platform called TXGB, which will help train the industry right down to the grassroot level about how to develop products, how to bring products to market, and particularly to the international audiences, to find those journeys, to find those new experiential products. This new B2B platform was launched at the recently Explore GB event, and when fully functional in a few months will seamlessly connect UK suppliers with distributors globally.