Interview with Vishal Bhatia, VisitBritain
Country manager – India, Visit Britain
Riding on the Cricket World Cup mania that has seen many Indians flying to the United Kingdom (UK), VisitBritain is pushing new sites, lesser known to Indian travellers. Vishal Bhatia, country manager for India at VisitBritain shares his ambitious plans.
What are the top destinations in the UK visited by Indians?
The top UK destinations in terms of visitor numbers from India are London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. Visitors from India spend more in Britain on average per visit and stay longer than the average inbound visitor, spending more than half their time outside London. We also know that visitors from India rate the UK for its outstanding natural beauty and its interesting and exciting contemporary culture, with the vibrancy of cities like Manchester and Liverpool holding huge appeal.
Could you briefly describe the activities and current marketing campaigns engaged by VisitBritain in India?
India is a very important market for VisitBritain and cricket is a very strong connection between our countries. We partnered with ESPN Cricinfo to run the The Biggest Fan Challenge, the winner of which travelled to the UK to share the amazing experiences that Indian travellers can only have in Britain during the tournament. We are also working with partners in India including tour operators, OTAs and airlines to promote regional destinations and to make it easier for visitors to book and explore more of Britain. We are developing new ‘themed’ products and itineraries for the Indian travel trade and our travel partners, to tap into the leisure, business and VFR segment, we continue to build on our existing partnership with Marketing Manchester as the Gateway to the North, amplifying our marketing and converting the inspiration to visit Britain in actual bookings.
Between the first time travellers and repeat travellers, how do you communicate to each of the groups?
Our global marketing campaign Find your Great Britain, I travel for…is building on the strong growth we have seen from India. Through the campaign, we tailor content to the passions that inspire India travellers, including food and drink experiences, culture and sport, while also promoting Britain as the place to travel to right now for new adventures, undiscovered experiences and tourism products that visitors cannot get elsewhere.
Our primary audience in India is what we term ‘buzz-seekers,’ young people aged 25-44, couples and families in India
We are also targeting corporates and incentive groups in India to choose the UK for their events. The UK is a premier destination for business events, and we are engaging with key corporates and trade in India to showcase our world-class venues and activities, and to highlight ease of access to the UK.
Food and shopping are key aspects, beyond London how are the regions competitive in this domain and aware of the ‘Indian preferences’?
Shopping is of key interest to Indian travellers coupled with dining experiences. Keeping this in mind, VisitBritain has partnered with regional tourism boards to highlight both aspects to Indians. Some of the shopping districts include Bicester Village and Cheshire Oaks that are beyond London and frequented by Indian visitors. The UK is home to arguably the largest number of Indian restaurants anywhere in Europe ranging from the Curry Mile of Manchester to the Balti Triangle of Birmingham. Some of the best South Asian cuisines can be found in the UK.
You have engaged specific actions in the Tier 2/3 markets, what’s the response? How important is vernacular language to you in order to tap these markets?
In India, in addition to the metros, we are extending our reach to Tier II cities through a mobile-first approach on digital channels, promoting tailored content that inspires travellers to choose Britain. Working with our trade partners we are extending our activity to Tier II cities through product training, educational trips and supporting them to develop products that make it easier for them to sell the destination.
We partnered with the Global Panorama Showcase, a travel trade training company in central India, in 2018-19, to target Tier II & III markets and received a very good response. Vernacular languages are definitely very important for us as partners to inspire Indians and change perceptions of the UK.
Visa remains the main issue for Indian travellers. What do you think shall be done to improve the situation?
We welcome all initiatives that improve our competitive tourism offer globally. The UK has 18 visa application centres in India, more than in any other country, and has continued to expand its premium and priority services. VisitBritain does not undertake visa processing, however, we continue to talk to the India travel trade and businesses to understand their concerns.
What’s next for VisitBritain in India in 2019/2020?
We are working very closely with our trade and content partners to develop and distribute Mono-Britain products, pushing London as well as city countryside breaks, to inspire visitors to look to the UK as their next holiday destination. VisitBritain’s content and digital marketing inspires visitors from India to not only stay longer in Britain but to explore the countryside and cities beyond London. We continue encouraging the Indian traveller to experience more of regional England. We are also promoting family travel during the winter months with a campaign focused on London, Manchester and Liverpool. Connecting routes on Middle Eastern carriers have also been growing fast, providing access to travellers from Tier I and II cities within India to regional British cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.