An Expert View With…

annie hawkinsANNIE HAWKINS

COUNTY TOURISM MANAGER,
HERTFORDSHIRE LEP

What does your job involve and how much of it is directed at group travel?

In my job now based at The Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP], I play a key role in marketing Hertfordshire as a visitor destination and increasing the value that tourism brings to the local economy. It clearly adds value to the quality of life of our communities, and helps inward investment, also making Hertfordshire a vibrant and interesting place to be. I co-ordinate the marketing activities of our Tourism Partnership under the ‘Enjoy!’ brand and work closely with our tourism businesses and local authorities encouraging them to engage in campaigns and other marketing opportunities. I probably spend about 30% of my time on group marketing, if not more, but it is hard to quantify, as with a small budget to play with there are always marketing overlaps!

How do you ensure groups know of all your county has to offer?

As a Tourism Partnership we exhibit at six Group Travel Fairs a year under the Enjoy! Hertfordshire banner. This gives us an opportunity to talk directly to group organisers and find out what they are looking for and to get feedback. We provide an annual Group Guide that has themed itineraries ranging from Antiques to the Weird & Wonderful. Familiarisation trips are an excellent way to promote the tourism offer to GTOs, and a recent trip resulted in three tour operators looking to offer Herts as a Mystery Tour. If they have a good experience – which of course they will – it is then much easier for them to sell the tour. We also have the hugely successful Enjoy! Hertfordshire cheque book, over 20 incentive ‘cheques’ with a value in excess of £500 offering two for one admissions, discount on accommodation, etc. I am very proud of this product, it won Best 2012 Olympic Initiative at the 2011 British Travel Awards.

What are the main concerns for GTOs when they are planning a visit to your area?

Parking is always a big issue for GTOs and for local authorities. Both the cost and also where it is. Groups do not want their coach to be parked miles away, and anyone planning a new attraction or hotel or rationalising parking, must bear this in mind!  Signage is so important too, visitors do need to find you easily, and SatNavs are not always reliable. One of the issues raised in some of our research was ‘somewhere to empty the coach toilet and have afternoon tea! If you can offer those, people are likely to come and visit often!’ The important thing is try to think like a GTO.

What tips in marketing an area could you pass on to others?

Be passionate about your tourism offer. If you are not, don’t expect anybody else to be, and actually if you are not, perhaps it is time to get a new job!

Persevere, and keep knocking on those doors and sending those mails until you do get the right people for the right project, and you are much more likely to have success. Think partnership: you can achieve much more with a small budget if you work with partners outside of the obvious tourism sector.

With 36 years experience in local government, including Libraries, Highways and Education, Annie has been in her current economic development role since 2000.  She played a lead role in the Cultural Olympiad celebrations in Herts for the London 2012 Games.