The Minister commented:
‘Overall visitor expenditure increased by just over 5% to £103M over the figures for 2011. Of this, the expenditure by Leisure Visitors increased by 14% to £47.7M. This is particularly impressive as the figures in 2011 were boosted by the highly successful Commonwealth Youth Games.
‘I believe this shows our strategy of working with the local private sector to target high-value niche markets is starting to deliver real results. My Department is committed to supporting further growth in tourism. The sector directly supports many jobs. In addition, it brings a level of leisure and social activities – from sporting events to restaurants – that a domestic population of 85,000 people could never sustain. As a result, it makes our Island a more enjoyable place to live, which is vital as we seek to retain and attract the highly skilled workers and their families that we need to grow our economy. Therefore I am convinced tourism remains a key part of our economy.’
The Department published its ‘Visitor Economy Strategy 2012-2015’ on 1 March 2012. This set out the need to drive up quality and exploit new markets to develop the Island as a year-round, distinctive and unique visitor destination. The strategy is highly targeted towards high-value niche markets as well as having a greater focus on specific geographic regions, such as integrated marketing campaigns in the North West of England. The Minister highlighted how this strategy was being implemented and some of the results achieved to date, alluding to some of the key initiatives that have been developed over the past few months.
‘We have strived to make the strategy a success through targeting specific markets. For example, broadening the portfolio of event-led tourism and developing activity-based holidays and group visits. ‘We are also delivering greater value for money in terms of our expenditure on marketing. We have been working our marketing budget very hard and allocate it to where we feel it would have most impact.
‘For example by facilitating various visits from broadcasters and other key media we have enabled the Island to be viewed by millions of people on television, in print and online, with an equivalent advertising value of £3M for 2012.
‘The Department’s portfolio of event-led tourism products has been expanded to include visits by classic car groups and small niche tours – particularly groups interested in aspects of the Island’s heritage such as railways and our natural environment such as diving or sea kayaking. Stargazing packages are also in development to exploit the Island’s seven Dark Sky Discovery Sites, which were announced by Manx National Heritage in October last year.
‘The Department continues to support and deliver new events to help boost visitor numbers such as the TT Triathlon and the Classic TT, the latter part of the new Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycling. The Steam Packet has recently reported that bookings for the Classic TT are 22% higher than the same time last year, which indicates that overall visitor numbers for the event will be significantly higher than for last year’s Manx Grand Prix.’
The Minister highlighted the greater emphasis placed on utilising the Internet to promote the Island.
‘According to Google, 80% of travel products in the UK are researched or purchased online, the highest figures for any country in the world. So we are using our digital channels to a much greater extent and the Visit Isle of Man website has become our main promotional tool.
‘Following improvements to the website last year it now attracts 70,000 visits per month, which is an increase of 300% on this time last year. A new, free Visit Isle of Man mobile app was also launched last October and to date there have been over 3000 downloads.
‘We have also facilitated the introduction of an online booking system for all accommodation providers as research indicates this is a very popular and growing method for booking in the UK. There have been nearly £100,000 of bookings made since its launch three months ago and although there have been some issues since its implementation I am confident that these are well on the way to being rectified.
‘The popularity of the website and focus on online channels may indicate that people are turning away from traditional channels such as printed brochures, however to date we have actually seen an increase of 48% in the number of requests for the 2013 Visitor Guide over the 2012 version. This bodes well for future bookings.’
In terms of its public relations approach the Department is also seeing the results of its targeted approach pay off.
The Minister noted:
‘Our targeted PR plan has resulted in a renewed interest in the Island from national, international media and specialist lifestyle titles. We have already hosted visits by the Daily Telegraph and BBC Olive magazine, with numerous further visits planned for the rest of the year. We already have articles pending for the Daily Mirror and The Guardian. Much of this interest is directed to those new markets we are keen to develop.
‘The Department has also been working on developing its group travel markets for 2013 onwards. There are 18 cruise liners booked to visit the Island this year with 10,000 passengers an increase of 50% on 2012. There are already 11 cruise liner visits booked for 2014. It is also liaising with over 240 coach tour operators to include the Isle of Man in future itineraries.
‘Exhibitions continue to be important in marketing to the travel trade. Although we have reduced the number of exhibitions we attend each year, we are optimising our presence at the ones we do attend. This year we attended the Active Travel Show, Destinations and Best of Britain and Ireland. We have been highly encouraged by the outcomes and generated may high quality leads and attracted a lot of interest from media, particularly within the key markets we have been actively targeting.’
The Department has also been developing a more open dialogue with industry stakeholders in order to maximise the impact of the initiatives it is working on.
The Minister continued:
‘The Head of Tourism participates regularly with the Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee as well as engaging with carriers and travel agents. We have also been communicating to local industry providers via a regular e-newsletter and a dedicated travel trade section on the Visit Isle of Man website.
‘Additionally, a working group from seven Government departments has been created in order to better utilise our resources to benefit the tourism and hospitality sectors. This is in its early stages but we do plan to involve local authorities as well in recognition of the important role they have to play.
‘We have also developed a visitor information distribution system which has enabled small-scale tourist information centres to be provided at key points, with a view to driving up visitor spend.’
The Minister concluded:
‘These visitor numbers are encouraging and together with the many initiatives we are working on show how the Department remains committed to tourism and the visitor economy, which are vitally important to the Isle of Man, both in terms of jobs and the quality of life we enjoy here.’