As domestic travel continues to broaden its appeal, Abra Dunsby looks at how agents can make the most of promoting UK breaks
Whether they want a minibreak, city jaunt or countryside retreat, clients can find it all in the UK, which explains why domestic tourism is on the up.
In a survey conducted by Visit Britain this January, more than half of the tourism business respondents reported increased visitor numbers in 2016, and the indications for 2017 are similarly positive. Another survey carried out this month showed that 63% of Brits are expected to take a domestic break in England this year, compared with the 57% who said they took one last year.
“The drop in the euro and the uncertainty around Brexit is seeing travellers look at domestic holidays this year,” says Gill McCarthy, UK sales director at Airways Holidays. “Safety is also an issue right now, and domestic holidays are seen as safe.”
For those who are tight on time, a UK short break can be an attractive proposition, and these types of holiday rose by 15% from 2006 to 2015, according to Visit Britain.
Operator Premier Holidays reports increased interest in breaks of three to four nights – and its short-haul manager Beverley Scarr has a tip for agents promoting them: “Use popular events to attract people’s interest.
For example, in the Channel Islands the annual Tennerfest food festival is held in the autumn and agents are becoming more aware of what great value it offers for a short break. Many restaurants and hotels offer menus from just £10.”
Sally Henry, sales director at Hoseasons, says: “Research shows that for the short break market, families and couples want to spend less time driving and more time in destination. They don’t want to drive more than two hours for a break.”
With this in mind, the company supplies regionalised offers for agents to promote to their clients.
Another burgeoning area is experiential travel, for which SuperBreak has seen a spike in demand. Graham Balmforth, the operator’s national sales manager, says: “These give clients a reason to travel – either to do an activity, such as a cookery school, or a behind-the-scenes tour of a royal palace, or to create amazing memories, such as attending the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a murder mystery short break or seeing a top London show.”
Trips to the capital for a theatre break also continue to be one of Omega Holidays’ top performers. Other products creating interest for the operator include one-off experiences such as trips on the Flying Scotsman, which agents can upsell to include hotels and transport.
Scotland and Cornwall are proving especially popular for Back-Roads Touring, which reports a 45% rise in bookings year-to-date. Lockie Kerr, the operator’s sales manager for UK & Ireland, attributes the rise to the growing trend for authentic, local experiences on tours, such as unique accommodation or learning a new skill.
With UK travel thriving, suppliers have plenty of ideas about how agents can market the wide-ranging product and drive bookings.
Sharon Smith, head of sales at Great Rail Journeys, says it can be as simple as chatting to clients about the UK to ensure it’s on their radar.
“Talk to customers when they are booking a holiday to find out what other trips they do throughout the year – quite often people don’t realise that you can book their UK break for them,” she explains.
Keeping up to date with popular culture can often provide a good marketing hook, too. “Researching where popular TV shows and movies are filmed and incorporating this into your shop window or website helps engage a potential client,” says Kerr at Back-Roads Touring.
Linking holidays to upcoming events is another marketing tactic. Examples include promoting travel to Bath for the Jane Austen festival (September 8-17), or creating themed posters and window displays for sporting events such as Wimbledon or the Grand Prix. Newmarket Holidays’ head of trade sales, Richard Forde, says agents could also generate added interest by contacting local sports clubs when these tours go on sale, to encourage group holiday bookings.
Annual events such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or New Year also provide an opportunity to promote themed breaks, with suppliers such as Warner Leisure Hotels often offering discounts and added value during these times.
“Domestic doesn’t have to be less exotic – our main focus is to bring the destination to life,” explains Airways Holidays’ McCarthy.
“The Channel Islands have all the benefits and comforts of being in the British Isles but so much to offer with French flair and island life that is different to being at home – and it’s important to highlight this.”
The operator offers agents package ideas for unique experiences and for specific client groups, highlighting the destination’s variety. Examples include an emphasis on local food in the operator’s Foodie Package, or its Active Watersports break for families.
For short break product, SuperBreak’s Balmforth suggests harnessing the power of social media and keeping posts topical to attract interest. “Short breaks are an impulse purchase – customers will see an offer and book it immediately,” he says.
He recommends linking a deal to a TV show, an event in the news or something with a regional interest.
Balmforth gives the example of Polka Dot Travel, which posted a SuperBreak package to see Strictly Come Dancing Live! at the O2 with overnight accommodation, and timed it to go live on a Saturday night while Strictly Come Dancing was on TV.
“The following week, they made more than 20 bookings from that one post,” he says.
There’s plenty of help at hand for agents who promote the UK, with operators providing support with everything from creating their social media assets to sending them away on educationals.
Omega Holidays launched its first dedicated UK brochure for the trade last November to help it promote domestic breaks; this accompanies the operator’s bookable website for agents, which was launched last September.
Channel Islands specialists Airways Holidays has a redesigned brochure for 2017, including magazine-style content to inspire agents, such as top 10 things to do on each island and how to spend a day in the capital of each of the islands.
Bourne Leisure has launched new interactive training courses for 2017, allowing agents to keep up with its three brands’ developments. The group also offers a free service for print and delivery of marketing collateral, including posters and stickers for window displays, leaflets and brochure front covers.
A number of operators offer domestic fam trips every year, including Omega Holidays, which recently took a group of agents from the east of England to watch Kinky Boots in London’s West End, and Premier Holidays, which is preparing to take a group of agents to Guernsey in October.
Hoseasons also offers agents fam trips or the chance to visit some of its properties during regional meetings. Sales director Henry says agents are often pleasantly surprised by the luxury offering, including the hot tubs, and that using photos of them works well to create visual posts on Facebook and Twitter.
Great Rail Journeys has launched an initiative to work with a handful of key agents which have nominated a dedicated Great Rail Journeys “champion” for their business.
As part of the partnership, the operator will run a fam trip to York and distribute weekly tips, offers and competitions.
In addition to sending out weekly offers, which can be tailor-made for agents to include their logo, SuperBreak is running an incentive for agents to get creative in promoting short breaks via email, direct mail, window display or social media. The winner will be rewarded with a short break to London and VIP tickets to see Take That.