How to bring in international bookings

By Caroline Donaldson-Sinclair

International tourism can be an incredibly lucrative market for Britain’s hospitality industry, with inbound tourism at an all-time high – Custard’s Caroline Donaldson-Sinclair explains how your hotel can get a slice of the pie.

Attracting international attention and therefore visitors to your property may seem a complicated and expensive, if not impossible, task. How does one even start to reach out to the world to attract visitors when it can be enough of a daily task just getting in the domestic guests?

At the end of the day, what is the difference between a booking from Brussels or a booking from Birmingham – it’s all heads on beds, right?

Wrong! International visitors tend to stay longer in each accommodation, not wanting to keep repacking the suitcase. They book further ahead and don’t cancel at the last minute because the weather forecast is ‘iffy’. They spend more. Not only is the pound weak at the moment, but they also have the ‘holiday money’ mindset, that ‘allows’ them to be a bit more frivolous with a foreign currency.

Finally, international visitors tend to be more flexible and able to select low occupancy days such as city hotels at the weekend and country hotels during the working week.

The inbound tourism market

According to the latest figures from VisitBritain, 2017 saw record growth for inbound tourism (39.2 million visitors) and also record spend figures (£24.5 billion).

Our largest inbound international market by visitor is France, with around 4 million visitors in 2016 followed by the USA and Germany at around 3.5 million and the Irish with just under 3 million visitors.

The French opt for an average of three nights in a specific accommodation, whilst the Irish will stay up to eight nights. Although Americans will tend only to stay one night, they will spend on average twice that of the second highest spending country; Germany, and 2.5 times that of the French.

Forecasting for 2018/19, VisitBritain sees Brexit as, so far, not causing any significant upset to growth figures.

“VisitBritain has continued to track consumer sentiment towards Britain since the referendum, with the latest wave conducted in March 2018. This reveals that for most potential European visitors, Brexit does not affect their decision to travel to Britain for leisure. Furthermore, most Europeans still see Britain as a welcoming destination – and agree that the exchange rate means that now is a good time to visit.”

(source: 2018 Inbound Tourism Forecast VisitBritain).

Emerging inbound markets are largely in-line with international economic development factors. BRIC is once again relevant following the economic recovery of Brazil, as well as the continued fiscal growth and fashion for international travel in Russia, India and most notably China. Being ‘China-Ready’ has grown its own sub-industry with firms setting up across the globe to offer advice and access to this complicated but hugely rewarding new market.

Taking your marketing worldwide

Attracting inbound tourists can be as simple as ensuring you are reaching out on social media. Be mindful of trending hashtags and focus posts toward the interests of the markets you are looking at.

For example, the Japanese welcome a bathtub in their room, so if you have a feature tub, why not highlight it? German visitors are known to favour the great outdoors and like to explore, in-depth and often on foot, so make sure you are promoting nearby trails and historic points of interest. The Chinese will generally seek to travel via coach and look for staff members with Mandarin.

Ensure you are in touch with your local tourist boards. They may well be bringing international travel media into your region and they are always in need of host hotels, so be willing to offer an overnight stay or even just a dinner to secure coverage in press articles.

A specialist PR agency can be invaluable in securing international as well as domestic media coverage and will ensure media requests are genuine and backed by a confirmed editorial commission.

It is often assumed that receptive tour operators (sometimes known as ground handlers or wholesalers) will demand blocks of rooms in order to work with you, but this is not the case and many specialise in smaller boutique-style properties – grouping them together on their books in order to find space available. Again, your local tourist

board will be able to help you with contacts, or if you have a marketing agency with a travel trade representation element, they can reach out on your behalf.

Trawl your regional tourist board’s website as they will have free listing opportunities for accommodation and events within which you can get placement and promotion.

They will also usually have ‘pay to play’ opportunities for broader branding and profile raising that will reach both UK and international visitors. Ensure you are following their social channels, tag them in your posts and if they don’t automatically start following you, write to them and ask them to link to you.

Be supportive and offer to host networking events. These will connect you to your local attractions, and this can lead to exclusive packages as well as media opportunities and direct recommendations. Tourism boards frequently run familiarisation trips for vetted travel agents and tour operators, both domestic and international, and are regularly in need of meal and accommodation support.

Frontline agents will regularly cross-sell to accommodation they are familiar with, over even those listed in their brochure – so these are well worth supporting.

Tourism board staff will welcome your support. Be the accommodation providers that supports them, says ‘yes’ and assists with quick turnarounds and you will quickly become their ‘go-to’ for the prime opportunities.

Once you feel you have done the basic groundwork and you are ready to take your accommodation outreach to the next level internationally, you may wish to consider attending events in partnership with your tourism board such as ExploreGB.

This major international inbound show welcomes foreign media and tour operators to discuss new travel stories and for the operators to contract with new properties. Your tourism region will generally take a stand and invite partners to share costs and attendance.

ExploreGB 2019 will be held in Harrogate, 8-10 May. Tourist boards are also likely to attend some of the larger domestic consumer shows such as Destinations at Olympia and The Daily Telegraph Travel Show at ExCel. Again, there are opportunities for stand shares which will put you directly in front of travellers looking to visit.

Advocacy and outreach association UKInbound is also a hardworking and well-organised voice for the UK tourism industry working on familiarisation trips, international sales missions, networking events etc; with a broad membership of industry influencers, tour operators, tourist boards, attractions, independent and groups of hotels.

Working with these larger associations in addition to the local tourism board will mean a greater pull on resources, but just think of those long-stay, high-spend, guaranteed bookings, as you may find a good outreach marketing plan will quickly pay for itself.


This article first appeared in Curious, issue one.