Determined to lift visitor numbers to 40 million a year by 2020, the British are counting on us, writes Robert Upe.
Still basking in the limelight of the Olympic Games in London last year, Britain is coming out with all guns blazing to lure more tourists. Australians, who are already spending record amounts of money in Britain, are firmly in the sights of the Brits, who have launched an ambitious global campaign to attract 40 million visitors by 2020, up from 31 million in 2012.
Even without the new campaign, tourism was at record proportions in Britain last year with visitor spend reaching £18.6 billion ($28.2 billion). Australians contributed their own record, dishing out £1.018 billion.
"Australians have the highest propensity to shop of all the international tourists in the UK," VisitBritain marketing manager Mark Haynes says. "This has not always been the case. The exchange rate is a big factor in this. Australians are no longer going just for traditional sightseeing, they are going there to shop."
VisitBritain chairman Christopher Rodrigues says the British tourist industry is aiming to "lift its game" on the back of the interest generated by the Olympics. Rodrigues was in Australia recently to spruik the virtues of British tourism and says there has never been a better time for Australians to go there.
Australians are no longer going just for traditional sightseeing, they are going there to shop.
"Britain is a cheap destination for Australians and it may be some time before the dollar weakens," he says. "My message to Australia is that it may never get better than this."
VisitBritain is forecasting it can attract 1.2 million Aussies a year by 2020. Rodrigues says 1 million visited last year alone. "We will be working with the travel industry and airlines to deliver to-die-for deals," he says. "Emirates, Qantas, Qatar and Etihad all do multi-city drops in the UK now and the air connections provide a strong enticement for Australians to come. Air China and China Southern are also putting out some phenomenal deals at the moment.
"I did a spot check for the week of July 15 to 21 and found fares for $1700. That is $1000 below the main carriers.
"Admittedly the journey through Guangzhou is a little bit longer, but they are great prices."
Rodrigues says five-star accommodation prices are also a bargain in London. "There was a lot of new development for the Olympics and the prices at the top end are very competitive. But people who have not been to Britain for a while may not realise there has also been a fantastic growth in branded three-star hotels. If you have more of a budget focus, Premier Inn and Travelodge now have 2000-plus properties all over Britain. They are comfortable with good beds, good showers and space. You get quality a three-star room for $100 a night, or less."
Rodrigues says Britain offers diversity for visitors, from foodie experiences at Michelin-star restaurants to trendy gastro pubs with main meals for $20.
"We have it all - culture, heritage, shopping, theatre, green countryside, villages and sport [900,000 international visitors watched a game of soccer last season]," he says. "We can give tourists almost anything that they may be passionate about, with the exception of hot and sunny beaches. We have beautiful beaches but we can't guarantee they will be hot."