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A Holiday Forecast

A bright forcast for Britain

It is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper now without seeing panicky stories about the spiralling costs of fuel and reading about consumers’ credit doom.

While businesses from a variety of sectors are keeping an eye on the headlines and feeling the pinch, the leisure and tourism industries – founded on consumers’ disposable income and at the mercy of rising oil prices – are on the frontline.

But up until this point, leisure and tourism clients had represented steady, even rich, ground for the marketing and PR companies servicing them, according to Ray Wellington, strategic director at Milton Bayer.

Working with clients including VisitBritain, Monarch.co.uk and London Luton Airport, Wellington says there has been “considerable” growth in the sector in recent years.

“We attribute this to consumer confidence and the competitive surge of low-cost airline carriers fuelling the independent travel booker volume, which has also seen the expansion of component providers,” he says. “Travel is now the largest e-commerce retail category in the world; 85 percent of bookings are online. As a result, costs have been driven down thereby stimulating travel desire.”

Reinvigorated

Front director Joe Chetcuti, pictured right, presides over a client list that includes Yorkshire Tourist Board, National Railway Museum and the Royal Horticultural Society. He agrees that the sector has performed strongly. “A change in the structure of national tourism bodies has reinvigorated the sector. This has made them much more open to creative communications as a business driver,” he explains.

For creative businesses to become immersed in the sector, David Wilkinson, managing director of Unit Communications Group, which works with the likes of Tate Liverpool, Stagecoach and The Lowry, says there are two key factors they have to grasp. “One,” he says, “is the understanding of people’s time and the other is valuing experiences versus buying objects.

“Each leisure activity is in competition with someone’s free time, whether that be watching TV, gambling online or taking a luxury holiday to the Caribbean. As such there is a real benefit to be gained in understanding how people are affected by their available time for competitive leisure activities.

“The other factor is that leisure is about gaining experiences rather purchasing things, this sets it apart from other forms of marketing that relate to product consumption.”

Described in these terms, the leisure and tourism sectors sound like pursuits for specialist agencies. But Brian Adcock, pictured right, business development director at Robson Brown, says this isn’t necessarily the case.

“Historically, this area of marketing has been more of a niche or specialist area but recently, marketing strategies are more general in approach with strong CRM and RM activity underpinning ATL, PR, digital and DM activity,” he says.

Robson Brown itself balances leisure and tourism clients, including NewcastleGateshead Initiative, The National Trust and Monstertravel.com, among its diverse client list.

Ownership

“We don’t see it as a specialism as we apply to same creative planning principles across all our clients – no matter what the sector,” says Front’s Chetcuti. “Certain idiosyncrasies exist over ownership of brands and therefore decision making. For example, who owns “Cornwall” or any destination as a brand and therefore who is best placed to communicate it?”

Indeed, the leisure and tourism sectors do present some unique challenges.

Fantastic Media is working on promoting and marketing HD One, a huge new development for Yorkshire town Huddersfield. The £100m project would bring a host of leisure facilities, including a ski slope and 720 jobs, to the land outside the town’s Galpharm sports stadium. The only problem is: it still might not get built.

“As the development is still awaiting planning permission, our task could change a lot in the coming weeks,” explains Fantastic Media PR manager, Donna Bedford. “At the moment we’ve put together marketing collateral aimed at investors and materials for residents in the area. How residents feel about the development could shape our own plans.”

Should the development get the green light, the Fantastic team will then turn their attentions to trumpeting HD One as a leisure destination – no small feat in testing financial times.

Bedford though, believes financial pressures could actually be turned into an advantage. “We’ll celebrate the jobs that it will bring to the area and talk about how much money it will bring into Huddersfield at a time when other towns and cities are losing cash.”

However it is dressed up though, the spotlight will be on firms working in these sectors as the credit crunch hits.

Lucre director Adrian Johnson, who works with clients including La Manga club in Spain as well as cruises and holiday firms, remains defiant: “The public won’t stop taking holidays or breaks, but there probably will be a shift in purchasing patterns. For example, we may take a shorter overseas holiday, nine nights instead of a fortnight. Or we may forsake the more expensive winter skiing trip for a weekend city break instead.”

Fuel prices will naturally restrict, to some extent, travel within the UK, according to Unit’s David Wilkinson. But he adds that may only make people travel shorter distances to their leisure activity rather than further a field. “The lesson here,” he cautions, “must be to keep it local, rather than chasing the shoulder markets.”

Fierce Demand

Despite the financial pressures, or perhaps in spite of them, Brian Adcock is unmoved: “Within the current economic climate there is a fierce demand for value-led travel and holidays. This will put pressure on the whole marketplace to drive prices down as well as adding value options.”

Ray Wellington says “it is interesting” that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has commented that even if crude oil rises to over $200 a barrel, it will not increase prices.

“This is because Ryanair does not earn its money on the flight,” he reasons. “It gets its returns on the baggage, booking, name changing, food etc. This is a great marketing strategy and is quite clearly a result of knowing the audience and what influences them the most.”

And knowing the audience and what influences them most will be more crucial than ever for these sectors in the coming months.

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