Best of British: Attracting overseas visitors

By Claire Churchard

- Last updated on GMT

Inbound opportunity: How can pubs showcase the best of British to overseas visitors?
Inbound opportunity: How can pubs showcase the best of British to overseas visitors?
For foreign visitors wishing to visit this sceptred isle the time has never been better, with generous exchange rates encouraging guests to spend their money. So how can pubs make the most of this inbound opportunity?

The fall in the value of the British pound has had at least one positive outcome – overseas tourists are flocking to the UK. And with a trip to a great British pub in the top three on their to do lists, the result is that seven out of 10 make sure they fit in a pub visit while they’re here.

Whether it’s German backpackers or Canadian opera fans, it looks like a market that is only going to grow. In July to September 2017, overseas residents made 10.9m trips to the UK. That’s 3% more than in the same three months in 2016, according to figures from Visit Britain. 

Importantly, holidaymakers from abroad are also spending more. Why wouldn’t you when the exchange rate is in your favour? In the three months to September 2017, foreign guests spent £8.2bn, up 8% on the same period the year before. With the number of nights that people from abroad stayed in the UK rising by 1%, it’s clear our foreign friends are making the UK a destination of choice, and they aren’t just visiting pubs, they are also staying in them. 

Director of accommodation website Stay in a Pub Paul Nunny says he has seen a significant rise in the numbers of foreign tourists booking pub rooms. Just three years ago 27% of pubs reported that their overseas guests made up between 11% and 20% of their bookings. This figure has now risen to 37% of pubs. 

Opportunities and threats

Since the Brexit vote, Fuller’s has seen more European travellers being a bit more adventurous about where they want to stay. “There’s been an increase in this group staying outside London, boosting their regional occupancy rates,” says the company’s Mark Fulton. “They’re heading out to explore Bridport, the New Forest, Oxford or Stratford.” 

However, Tony Leonard at the Roebuck, in Laughton, East Sussex, raises concerns about what might happen after we leave the EU. “We see that as a big threat hanging over the business. I think Britain after Brexit looks like a less welcoming place for visitors.”

Promotion of pubs

Pubs now feature heavily on the official Visit Britain and Visit England websites, while in the UK tourist office’s 21 hubs abroad, pub sector bodies and the Government are all working to promote UK pubs directly in visitors’ home markets, including via activity targeted campaigns featuring ale trails, country walks, climbing and cycling. All this work will only encourage more people to cross the channel to  good old Blighty, but there are ways pubs can attract even more of the international crowd through their doors. 

As a window for international interest your website is king. It is the first port of call for people looking for somewhere to stay. So good quality images, ideally a gallery, are a must.

It may sound obvious, but overseas visitors won’t book if they don’t like what they see online.

Nunny says licensees need to ensure a pub’s website gives the feel of the pub and represents what people can expect. If you serve food, include an up-to-date menu; if you offer deals, put them on the website to encourage people to stay for dinner. Marketing company Guestline suggests offering people a free drink on arrival, a free breakfast or late check out times to encourage them to book.

Mark Fulton, head of operations for hotels at Fuller’s, has seen a rise in overseas visitors to the company’s pubs and says: “All of our menus are on our websites. We have galleries up there, there are 360 degree tours, so people can get a feel for it. It is essential for us because the customer journey now starts online.”

Meet and greet

With reviews being such a crucial part of the decision-making process for overseas visitors, it’s important to make a great impression when they arrive.   

Nunny says: “Frequently pubs don’t have a reception, so staff need to be well trained to meet and greet. Whenever you go to a place if this (the meeting and greeting) is good, people feel comfortable. They know who to talk to, they feel welcome. It sets the tone.”

Getting the initial communication right can iron out a lot of issues, he says. “If no one really meets you and you just chuck your stuff in the room and someone says ‘you’re upstairs it’s the third right’, there’s no real engagement. You’ll have a customer who has lots of questions with no one to talk to.”

Friendly and helpful staff have the opportunity to share information about local attractions, walks and other activities. It also presents a prime time to ask if they’d like to book a table for dinner.

The breakfast exit is important too, says Nunny. “If you leave a pub and you’ve had a poor breakfast, you’re not that warm to the occasion. The exit [as much as the welcome] can affect people’s impressions of your pub.”

Staff training is key. It’s worth taking the time to make sure staff understand the value of good customer service as TripAdvisor is live in multiple countries, is read by millions of people and translates into different languages.

Fulton says: “For us the reputation that we build up for having good service, exceeding the customers’ expectations, making sure we sell our property as the one that they are going to, will all lead to good reviews on TripAdvisor which leads to having a good reputation. And that’s predominantly how people will find us.”

He says the same applies to companies like booking.com because they have web addresses in multiple countries. “If you’re scoring high on booking.com in the UK, you’re going to score high on booking.com when someone searches from within another country.

“If we can push ourselves high up the reputation chart, both on booking.com and Trip Advisor,” Fulton explains, “that’s where we can get an added advantage.” 

Package travel regulations

New package travel regulations are being introduced into the UK, which could impact adversely on pubs that want to offer some sort of package. If, for example, a pub wants to work with a local historic house and promote it, or a historic house wants to offer a free meal in a pub as part of the ticket price, such an arrangement would come under the package travel regulations and you would have to have a bond. 

“This is far too bureaucratic and costly for small businesses like pubs,” says British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds. “We have welcomed the announcement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that they will review those regulations in six months or a year and we’re hoping that once we leave the EU, some of the more onerous effects, like a bond arrangement, will no longer apply to domestic packages, like pubs working with local businesses.”

Trails and attractions

Highlighting nearby tourist attractions is another sure-fire way to pull in foreign holidaymakers. Nunny says it makes sense to include them on a pub’s website. 

The advantage of being listed on the website of a big tourist attraction is not lost on Tony Leonard, licensee of the Roebuck, in Laughton, East Sussex, the winner of best Freehouse of the Year at the Great British Pub Awards 2017. His pub is close to the internationally renowned opera house Glyndebourne.

“We’re listed on Glynbourne’s website, which we pay for and they’ll get a fair amount of overseas traffic coming to that. Around 10% of people that stay with us are from overseas,” he says.

“We provide a very local experience for guests. All our food is locally sourced. We try to give them, and our British guests, a taste of the area while they are with us – so the food and the wine. A sizable number of our overseas visitors stay in our rooms, so stay with us for dinner as well.”

The Roebuck also gets coachloads of Dutch tourists that come to visit a local plant nursery. “They are the equivalent of a British horticultural society coming over,” he says. “We work with them and put on a buffet while they’re visiting, so it’s about working with other 
local businesses.”

Fulton says Fuller’s pubs benefit from being part of walking trails, which they highlight on their local websites.

“We have the Hampshire Hog, which is in Clanfield on the A3, right next to the South Downs National Park. There’s the Hind’s Head in Aldermaston, Berkshire, which has lots of walking routes near it, and the Bull, a 16th-century coaching inn at Bridport, Dorset, on the Jurassic Coast. They advertise themselves as being near those locations.”

He says the important thing is to try to rank highly on ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO) so if someone says ‘I’d like to go on holiday near the Jurassic coast’, the pubs come up on those SEO results. “That’s why we promote local walking activities locally to let the businesses push their own identity rather than promoting Fullers businesses as a whole.”

Walks in general are a great tourist attraction. Nunny says the Government has recently agreed £1.2m funding to promote seven national walks, including the Pennine Way, the South West Coast Path and the Norfolk Coast, which also heavily promote pubs. He says the idea is to promote the walks abroad, as well as at home, with target markets being the Netherlands, Germany, France and America. “There will be an ale trail on all seven walks highlighted, 14 ale trails in total,” he says, “and there will be trails that you can do in a day.”

Increased footfall in pubs could also boost the UK’s beer export market, says Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association. “Pubs are a draw. I see the link between people coming to visit our pubs, drinking our beers, then they want to drink the beer when they go home. Our beer exports are worth £583m to the UK economy and we’re third on the list of food and drink export and it’s growing in places like China enormously.”

She says visitors who come here and visit British pubs drink the beer and want to drink it again. “To me it is all part of the tourism sector. We serve 1bn meals a year in pubs, and we have 50,000 bedrooms. So there are lots of people who come, they want to eat in pubs as well as have a drink, they want to experience pubs.” 

Fulton agrees, saying: “We pride ourselves on having a fantastic Fullers pub at the heart of all our businesses and very strong service. Our fresh food offer, complemented by our exemplary service, with the great atmosphere of a pub, is something foreign visitors see as quintessentially British.”

The opportunity is also obvious to Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, who said: “Attracting new customers and encouraging customers to return to your venues is crucial to the health of the pub sector and, in this regard, overseas visitors should be no different to UK customers. In fact, pubs have an opportunity to appeal to overseas customers specifically looking to experience something characteristically British on their holiday.” 

Against this background it is clear UK pubs have a bright future in welcoming ever increasing numbers of overseas visitors – with the added bonus that in the process they will be making an increasing contribution to helping offset Britain’s balance of payments deficit. 

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