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Monday, 29 September, 2008, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

India key growth market for Visit London

Visit London (VL) flagged off its India operations last year with a primary aim to increase tourist inflow from India. In the process of drawing more tourist numbers, the tourism board is leaving no stone unturned to reach its goal discovers Anita Jain
Visit London in its present form, as the British capital’s official tourism agency, was set up in 2003. It replaced the London Tourist Board which had been set up in 1963. VL is funded by partnership subscriptions and commercial activities. The main role of VL is to promote and market London to leisure and business visitors like any other National Tourist Organisations (NTOs). But VL has initiated various tourism projects on a global level, which are hardly paid attention to by other international NTOs. Few tourism projects include the introduction of the environment policy and a television channel for promoting tourism on a domestic and international level. Also, in association with London Development Agency, VL launched ‘Green Tourism’ for hotels, guest houses, attractions and venues in the capital. The ‘Green Tourism’ initiative was to improve the environmental performance of the properties, make substantial cost savings and prove green credentials to potential visitors.  

Entry into the Indian market
VL has always eyed the Indian tourism sector. To tap the emerging outbound market of India, VL launched its first ever overseas representation office in New Delhi, India on April 1, 2007. With improving number of tourist visitors every year from India, London is looking at various ways to further enhance the inflow. “India is a rapidly emerging visitor market for London. India is expected to generate about 60 million outbound travellers by 2020 and we are aiming to tap that figure,” said Rania Wannous, Manager – Corporate Communications, VL.

Providing an insight into the idea behind entering the Indian market, Punam Singh, Chief Representative – India, VL said, “VL started focusing on the Indian market as part of the Visit Britain Sales Missions from 2004 onwards, participating in two of their India Sales Missions in 2004 and 2007. In fact, Visit London also had an independent Sales Mission of its own in Delhi and Mumbai in September 2006. The decision to open an independent establishment, even though VisitBritain also markets London, was considered in the September 2006 Sales Mission and finally crystallised in April last year.”

Since its arrival in India, VL has been targeting the travel trade and end consumers through its campaigns to increase the awareness of its brand – London. VL’s initial strategy was to host a road show by itself or in conjunction with their strategic partner – VisitBritain; offering Visa workshops with UK Visas. “VL organised about 18 road shows in 15 cities of India in the first year of its operations,” informed Singh. Along with this ,Visit London also participated in a few travel trade shows, a film tourism show, a consumer show and organised online training for agents in conjunction with Galileo.

Trading with trade
While entering the Indian market, VL observed that most of the bookings for London are done via the travel trade. “VL was very excited by the potential of the Indian  market at the end of an independent sales mission in 2006 held in India. After connecting with leading travel and tourism players, VL realised that there was an urgent need to promote London independently due to the growing demand for the same from India. About 90 per cent of the bookings come via travel agents for London. Our current and future strategy will be to ensure that the trade is well educated about the destination and attractions of the city,” added Wannous.

VL recently launched an online training program for the travel trade in India. Agents undertake an online exam and if successful are certified as experts in selling London as a destination. Apart from the training program, VL has also introduced a B2C campaign in association with TUI in major retail outlets across Delhi and an online campaign in partnership with VisitBritain. VL is recording growth in both leisure and business traffic from India. “Our target markets in India are both metro and Tier II cities. We have been promoting the leisure and MICE market whilst selling the VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) and student segments,” said Singh.

Future prospects
For London, year on year, business has increased from the Indian market in either numbers, length of stay or spend. In fact, last year Indians broke all records by being the highest spenders in London, out spending the traditional high spenders – Japanese. In 2007, the average spending of an Indian visitor per trip was Pounds 724. “Along with greater focus on MICE, Film Tourism and agents’ online training, VL is also targeting end consumer promotions to push the leisure market,” said Singh. Starting 2009, VL will be running specific campaigns in conjunction with the London and the US campaigns, especially in the business tourism sector.

“VL’s key leisure growth market activity in 2008-2009 will be focused on India and China. Indian growth and spend levels are seeing further positive increases and VL’s on territory representation will continue to enhance the activities in the market. Both, India and China have been identified by recent research as major opportunity markets for London in the 2012 Olympic Games period and work to activate these markets must be undertaken now to net maximum benefits during and after the Olympic Games in 2012,” concluded James Bidwell, Chief Executive, VL.
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