Cities need focus on uniqueness to attract visitors, says VisitEngland boss

18 June 2014 by

Cities hoping to attract tourists need to focus on what makes them different, and how to make the visitor experience as exceptional as possible.

That's according to James Berresford, chief executive of tourist board VisitEngland and Loyd Grossman, chairman of the Heritage Alliance, who were addressing delegates at the Future of City Tourism conference in Liverpool's Stanley Dock yesterday.

Asked what cities should do to increase tourism, Berresford said that improving the visitor experience was key, as was an emphasis on distinctiveness and a focus on unique attractions and events. This will see visitors recommend the city to others and come back, he said.

He also explained that connectivity of destinations (how easy they are to get to, and how easy it is to link with other nearby attractions) was paramount, and that cities should have a "destination plan" with visitors in mind, in which they establish local, regional and national links with nearby places.

Similarly, Grossman said that destinations should aim to "be different". He used the example of cities with canals, saying that to distinguish itself from Amsterdam, a city such as Ghent in Belgium would need to promote its unique elements (in Ghent's case, its association with artist van Eyck).

He also noted the importance of "intangible heritage", including cultural characteristics such as the way "they dance [Catalan dance la sardana] in Barcelona, drink beer in Munich and cook in Naples". In a globalised world, he said, "people are crying out for distinctiveness".

"We should be more welcoming to international visitors, but must be sure that our key product doesn't change too much," Berresford said. He noted that despite being perceived by tourists as less friendly than other nations, Britain was also seen as being rich in culture.

The conference, which took place at the newly-opened Rum Warehouse next to the soon-to-open hotel, the Titanic, was organised by the European Tourism Association (ETOA), VisitEngland and Virgin Trains.

Other speakers included mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, and director of Digital Tourism Thinktank Nick Hall; plus event chairman Professor Tony Travers, director at LSE London, part of the government department at the London School of Economics.

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