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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.

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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


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