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Interview: Visit Britain CEO Sally Balcombe

Following ExploreGB 2019, we speak to Visit Britain CEO Sally Balcombe about the event, the Australian market and the effect Brexit may have had on inbound tourism.



Why is ExploreGB such an important event for you?

ExploreGB is an extremely valuable business tool, giving UK travel suppliers and destinations the chance to get their products in front of hundreds of top global buyers, forging international business connections and ultimately inspiring more visitors to book a trip to the UK.


I believe this year’s event had particular significance?

The British Tourist Authority was formed in 1969 to promote Britain to the world so 2019 is the year we celebrate 50 years of VisitBritain.

Since those early days inbound tourism to the UK has grown from 5.8 million overseas visits to about 40 million.


Hebden Bridge (Image Visit Britain / Robert Birkby)


Does Australia remain a major focus for you?

Australia is an extremely important market for VisitBritain, a billion-pound market, our fourth most valuable, delivering about one million visits annually. It is one of our priority GREAT markets, meaning we invest more in Australia.

We know that Australians rate the UK highly for its vibrant cities, historic buildings, sport and interesting and exciting contemporary culture.

We are forecasting just over one million visits from Australia this year, up four per cent on 2018, with forward flight bookings currently tracking ahead of last year when looking at arrivals for May.


Are there any specific campaigns planned for our market?

VisitBritain is driving growth from Australia through its ‘Find your GREAT Britain, I Travel For..’ campaign, showing that Britain is bursting with fun activities and new adventures to come and experience right now, inspiring holidaymakers to discover more, travel further and stay longer.

This campaign is all about tapping into the passions that motivate Australians to travel, also promoting less-explored locations alongside Britain’s globally renowned iconic landmarks and attractions.

The introduction of ePassport gate access for Australians from summer 2019 is also going to make it easier and faster to enter the UK, boosting our competitive tourism offer and our message of welcome, helping to drive growth and inspiring even more Australians to book a trip.



Has the Brexit vote had any effect on the inbound market?

VisitBritain’s research shows that for most potential visitors Brexit does not affect their decision to travel to Britain for leisure and that Britain is still seen as a welcoming destination.

It is encouraging to see forward flight bookings overall to the UK for the coming months tracking ahead of last year, up five per cent from April to June for arrivals, and we are confident of a strong summer season and beyond.


Finally, how does Britain stay ahead of the rest in the tourism landscape?

Tourism is an extremely competitive global industry and people have a lot of choice. We must continue to offer great experiences that make people come back time after time.

The ambition for Britain is 40 million visits by 2020, the first time it will break through the 40 million visit mark.


Written by: Sally Balcombe as told to Jon Underwood
Published: 28 May 2019

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