The challenge of promoting Bristol during a global pandemic

Today’s blog comes from John Hirst, Chief Executive, Destination Bristol

At a time when there have never been more travel restrictions throughout the world, the irony is not lost on our team at Destination Bristol that Sunday 27 September 2020 is World Tourism Day!

We have been focussed on attracting visitors into Bristol for over 20 years. The number of visitors has been increasing year on year and Bristol is becoming one of the UK’s favourite cities to visit.

Our target market is not only people living in this region for day visits but also people living in the UK for weekend trips or short breaks. We are also focused on the international market; encouragingly Bristol is becoming a favourite for many overseas visitors.

Our aim at Destination Bristol is to increase the value of the region’s visitor economy.  This figure stands at £1.4bn in 2019 and has been growing for a number of years. Our sector employs almost 30,000 people in our city region.

Photo: Jim Cossey

All the above reads very positively, but then earlier this year COVID-19 emerged.  There are many people who have been involved in the tourism sector for many more years than me but I don’t think anyone had prepared for anything as impactful as COVID-19.  Most of what we have built over the years came crashing down in a very short period of time.  It was like hitting the longest snake on a snakes and ladders board!

As I write the situation is still very serious making it very difficult for us to climb back up to where we know we belong.

When we look at the “Bristol offer” the list is endless, please visit our website: https://visitbristol.co.uk/, it will give a detailed picture of what is available.  The situation in Bristol and the region has been improving rapidly over the last few years and Bristol has become more popular for visitors from across the world.  Interestingly our international visitors are mainly restricted to a number of countries. It is important to note that the growth potential in our sector is enormous.  We need to re-focus over the coming months and build the foundations which will enable us to pick up from where we stopped in March of this year once the threat of COVID-19 recedes.

Photo: Gary-Newman

The future, post-COVID, will be completely different. We will need to prepare accordingly and provide our visitors with the assurances that our destination is not only welcoming and interesting but also safe. The recent announcement of new restrictions by the Prime Minister taking us through to the Spring of 2021 will delay our recovery. We need to be working behind the scenes to prepare for the new future, ensuring that we and our partners become more resilient and adaptable.

Our immediate plans within Destination Bristol are to work more closely with our neighbouring areas. At this stage we will be aiming to establish formal partnerships with Bath, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset with a view to promoting the region and not just Bristol. Our aim for 2021 onwards is to promote the whole region to the world and to attract even more visitors than before and most importantly to encourage them to stay longer in our region, spend more and to visit the wide range of attractions available.

The industry is facing its biggest challenge ever and we are all suffering badly. We must be optimistic and look to the future with realistic optimism.

Our plan to expand and promote this region to the world must be our main objective if we are to survive and prosper.  Finally our aim must be to focus on the challenge of increasing the value of the visitor economy in our region, bringing even more money and more jobs to the widest possible range of people and places in our region.

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