By Doug Gollan
Last year Britain hosted the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Games of the XXX Olympiad. In 2014 the United Kingdom will host the Commonwealth Games, and in 2015, the Rugby World Cup. Christopher Rodrigues, Chairman of Visit Britain, is thinking for 2013 (or whenever you want) England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are ready for your own personal events, no matter how intimate or large and lavish you wish. More on that in a bit, but first a post-Games report.
During an interview at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Abu Dhabi, Rodrigues said perhaps the biggest compliment he received on the UK’s staging of last summer’s Olympic games came on a subsequent trip to China. After receiving a standing ovation when he took the stage to speak (not a standard welcome), he later was told by one of his hosts, “The (Chinese) can’t say Britain did it better, so I can say Britain did it differently, which is to say you did very well.”
“The wonderful thing about 2012 for us was that the whole country decided it was going to come together behind the games – I don’t have to say it because the world said it – it was a wonderful games – it showcased the country very well and one of our objectives was to highlight the extraordinary range of things in London and particularly outside,” Rodrigues said.
The Olympics have a history of disappointed destinations – unsold hotel rooms during the Games and lagging tourism numbers after, however Rodrigues said that hasn’t been the case for the UK: “We had a record year in spending, which is frankly what it is all about. It’s a reflection of the strength of London as a global go-to destination – the last quarter was very good and it has been a very good start to the year. We managed to beat the drop, and the bounce has been a bounce up instead of a bounce back.”
On the larger picture, Rodrigues said the Games “really showcased the things that are available to do in Britain,” adding, “Whatever your passion, if you haven’t done it in Britain—and it is amazing that is true of almost everything—from golf to the arts— except hot sunny days on the beach, you haven’t done it.”
He said media coverage showcased “the arts scenes not just in London but around the country.” A recent article in The Telegraph highlighted more than 25 opera and classical music festivals during the summer.
Another benefit of the Games, according to the chairman, was to ”help people understand that the country I represent is a very small country—Oxford and Cambridge are one hour from London, Bath and York are two hours, it’s just over four hours on a high-speed train to Edinburgh with lots to do along the way.
Rodrigues said coverage of the Olympics also gave the world a different view on Britain’s thriving culinary scene. Two of the Top 10 Restaurants in the 2013 Elite Traveler & Laurent Perrier Top 100 Restaurants in the World were from the UK, and 10 in the list of 100 were from London. Underscoring the strong showing, Rodrigues recalled, “My absolutely favorite experience as chairman of Visit Britain was being at the British embassy in Paris where the Ambassador was kindly hosting an event for us, and one the senior editors of one of the main French newspapers turned to him and said, ‘I think the food in London now is better than the food in Paris.’”
Beyond the top name eateries, Rodrigues says there has been a surge in elevated pub cuisine, or “gastro pubs.” Driven by smoking bans and tough drunk driving laws, pubs had to recreate a reason for people to come, and they are now becoming food destinations (such as The Walnut Tree Inn in Abergavenny). Yet he notes in terms of Britain getting its fair recognition with gourmands, “the food has improved but the reputation is still lagging slightly.”
Yet another plus from the Olympics was to give veteran travelers a fresh take on London and reasons to come back. Rodrigues quotes Samuel Johnson who wrote, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”
Now for your own personal jubilee, be it a birthday party, anniversary or celebration for a dozen or hundreds of your best friends and favorite relatives. Rodrigues says “it’s great for the economy” and notes Britain has a diversity of venues for amazing events, from castles to museums to over 300 buildings owned by the National Trust, including the childhood homes of the Beatles in Liverpool.
Rodrigues rolls off The Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and National Portrait Gallery as a few of the many London venues that host private events. Private castles and manors such as the Duke of Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle or Chatsworth, home of the Duke of Devonshire, can all host parties big and small. Eastnor Castle meanwhile is home to Land Rover’s famous test track.
In some cases, castle and manor owners will play host, and Rodrigues recalls attending one such event where the chatelaine of the castle commented with regrets, “five of my Tintorettos are away at the moment.” Or, as Rodrigues pointed out, even for the most experienced elite travelers there are still plenty of unique experiences to be had in Britain.