The ETC is unveiling an ‘England’ brand to encourage overseas visitors and English residents to holiday in Britain. Critics argue that its marketing should be integrated with Scotland and Wales. But this campaign is about tourism, it is not an attempt to tackle the united Britain debate, says Lucy Barrett
The tourism industry in the UK has always suffered from a personality crisis. While tourist boards for Scotland and Wales have discrete marketing programmes and advertise extensively at home and abroad, their counterpart in England, the English Tourism Council (ETC), has struggled to find its own identity.
This week the ETC is attempting to redress the balance by unveiling the first brand for England, to position itself and fight off competition from popular holiday destinations such as Spain and France.
The branding initiative is the result of a two-year project, but it already faces a White Cliffs of Dover-sized barrier. The ETC, which split from the British Tourist Authority two years ago to unlock the potential for England, does not have a single penny to spend on marketing the new brand.
Scotland receives about &£20m a year in funding from the Government, Wales almost &£15m. England receives about &£10m, but &£5m goes to the local regions and the rest is spent on research and administration.
The British Tourist Authority still has a role marketing the UK as a holiday destination, but what the individual countries within the UK must ensure is that overseas travellers are not put off by over-complex ad campaigns. In fact, in some Asian countries there is no separate name for England and Britain, there is just one word.
Therefore the ETC is aiming to use the brand and logos to help the regions market themselves under a clearer umbrella strategy.
If the Yorkshire Tourist Board wants to run a marketing campaign in New York, for example, it will have its own logo on the marketing literature, and one of the England logos to promote to potential US tourists that it is an English county.
The ETC has produced two logos: the English rose, and a flag split into four representing heritage, tranquillity, energy and culture, which aims to show the diversity of England.
The elements of the brand have been developed after two years of focus groups, and interviewing potential tourists in the US and foreign visitors to the UK.
The ETC says the research highlighted how diverse England is. It says England has strong traditions, yet by contrast, it is also progressive and mould-breaking.
The ETC has developed a brochure crammed full of images of England. These range from The Angel of the North sculpture to Shakespeare and choir boys, to fish and chips. This is how England is viewed outside the country, but the ETC. claims it is not only targeting the overseas market; it wants to make people who live in England think more about taking holidays and short breaks in this country.
And even though tourism is a growth sector – it is the fifth largest industry in the UK, accounting for one in five jobs – the ETC will find it tough to convince English residents to forsake their cheap two weeks in Spain or Greece. Not only is it often cheaper to go abroad, you are almost certainly guaranteed better weather.
But Robyn Griffith-Jones, director of communications for the ETC, denies this is a problem: “More and more people are holidaying at home, and more are taking short breaks – such as long weekends at hotels.
“It’s amazing to think England has never had a brand. We needed to develop it to make marketing easier for the local regions,” she adds.
When the ETC demerged from the BTA, many people expected to see a series of England-centric advertising campaigns – showing the glories of the monarchy or seaside resorts – similar to those run by Spain and Egypt.
However, critics believe England has got to move away from its traditional image of monarchy and Shakespeare, to show a more robust, snappier up-to-date country in touch with the 21st century. Not everyone wants to visit a country just to walk around ruins.
And some critics say the traditional “nationalistic” ad campaigns are damaging to our image within the international business community.
BMP DDB chairman Chris Powell, who is also behind remarketing Britain as a modern country to attract investment, disagrees: “I don’t think this is right. People are capable of having one vision for business and another for tourism.”
Yet there are some critics who say marketing for the UK should be fully integrated, and not split between England, Scotland and Wales.
“If I was a foreign tourist I would think we were talking about a dozen different countries,” says John Mathers, director of brand and strategy at design consultancy Fitch.
The ETC is quick to point out that this is a brand and logo for the English tourist industry and not one up for hijack by the nationalist debate over what Britain, or indeed England, stands for now.
“It is not as though we have developed a brand on behalf of the Government,” says Griffith-Jones. “This is purely and simply for tourism.”
Whatever views the idea of a brand for England elicits, the fact remains that without a marketing budget, the ETC will find it virtually impossible to push home its new image.
All it can do is hope for a change in legislation – “If it happens, we’ll be ready,” says Griffith-Jones. Whether New Labour, with its tight purse strings and a love of Tuscany, will listen to any lobbying on the issue is another matter.