Skip to main content

VisitBritain: Bringing visitors to Britain

Sir John Bourn, Head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today that VisitBritain’s overseas marketing activities are well planned and executed, and that they achieve high returns. However his report called on VisitBritain to adjust the balance of its activities further in favour of brand building work in emerging markets.

VisitBritain’s main performance target is the return on investment that it achieves and in 2003-04 VisitBritain reported that its overseas activities generated £30 of additional expenditure by overseas visitors for every £1 of public funds that it spent. While the returns achieved are undoubtedly high, the National Audit Office identified a number of weaknesses in the way that VisitBritain calculates and reports the returns that it achieves.

The prominence given to the return on investment indicator plays a part in encouraging VisitBritain to undertake more short term tactical campaigns, often with partnership funding from the ‘big players’ in the industry or bodies representing the destinations being promoted. These campaigns tend to focus on encouraging as many tourists as possible to visit Britain within a defined time period, often with the incentive of a cut-price offer from the industry partner. These short-term campaigns are particularly worthwhile when the tourist industry is trying to recover from a crisis. While VisitBritain has made useful recent enhancements to its brand building work, the emphasis on return on investment does leave less room to undertake the longer term marketing activities that promote Britain more generally as a desirable destination. In this connection VisitBritain has recently started to market Britain in four emerging markets (China, Russia, South Korea and Poland).

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is also working, with VisitBritain, to establish greater clarity about VisitBritain’s role and responsibilities in relation to other publicly funded tourism bodies.

"The tourist industry is a significant income-earner and employer in Great Britain. VisitBritain deserves much credit for the support it provides through professional and well executed marketing activities which clearly generate high returns. However, VisitBritain now needs to focus even more on emerging markets where Great Britain can be energetically promoted as a most attractive tourist destination."

Sir John Bourn

Notes for Editors

  1. VisitBritain (formed by the merger, on 1 April 2003, the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourism Council) is Britain’s national tourist organisation and is sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. VisitBritain employs around 476 staff in London and across 31 overseas countries. In 2003-04, £35.5 million of VisitBritain’s £49.2 million grant-in-aid was allocated to marketing Britain as a tourist destination overseas. Most of its remaining budget is spent on marketing England within Britain. VisitBritain also raised a further £17.2 million from the private sector in 2003-04. This report looks at the effectiveness of VisitBritain’s overseas marketing activity.
  2. Tourism is a devolved activity in Great Britain. Scotland and Wales now have the legislative authority to promote their country overseas. As one element of VisitBritain’s remit is to build the value of inbound tourism to Britain, it is accountable not only to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the United Kingdom Parliament, but also to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.
  3. Tourism is one of the largest industries in the United Kingdom (figures not available for Great Britain only), worth some £74.2 billion and accounting for around 4.5 per cent of GDP. Tourism supports 2.1 million jobs, 7.4 per cent of Great Britain’s total workforce, with an additional job created for every £40,000 spent by visitors. In 2003 more than 24.5 million overseas visitors came to Great Britain, spending £11.7 billion.
  4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  5. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is head of the National Audit Office, employing some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 65/04