Domestic Tourism Re-imagined in the British Isles
Before Covid-19 came along, like many in the outbound adventure travel industry, we were trying hard to be better. We were grappling with issues around single-use plastic, climate action/carbon reduction, over-tourism, buying local and community engagement.
Then wham! It hit us all and we’ve had to stand by and watch this tidal wave of disruption to tourism and commerce. We’ve also seen things we didn’t expect to see, like what nature can be without crowds and pollution. Many of us have realised that pre-Covid 19 we were caught in a world that couldn’t stop itself or help itself. It couldn’t turn back.
I’ve worked as a manager, a Managing Director and an owner in the travel industry since 1986 (after backpacking around the world for two years before that). I know the industry well and have seen a few disasters and dealt with some crises along the way, but there has never been anything quite like the one that hit the world in March 2020.
Productive Navel Gazing
Like most readers I’m sure, I did my fair share of navel gazing in those early days when lockdown started. I tried hard to imagine how travel would (or even could) start again because there are so many interconnected and interdependent segments of our worldwide network. How it could re-mobilise again was beyond me and the many colleagues I talked to in the first weeks.
I consider myself to be quite lucky. Not just that I’ve managed to spend 36 years travelling the world. But also because I live in a beautiful place in deepest, rural Hampshire in Southern England. And while I gazed from my lockdown office window on open fields, went running, cycling and swimming more than usual I really started to think about local tourism in my own area. A few members of The Adventure Connection team started thinking the same way and we started to investigate domestic tourism opportunities within days of lockdown starting.
I attended the first ATTA Covid-19 Webinar back in March where it was mentioned that domestic tourism was likely to be the first thing to come back once the pandemic was behind us. Then another webinar in late March/early April where a director of TripAdvisor presented data and statistics showing that domestic bookings were already accelerating across a stack of destinations around the world. I began to think about this. A lot. I then received two telephone calls completely out of the blue, from domestic operators I knew here in the UK, both wanting us to help them with their marketing (I run a travel marketing and representation agency called The Adventure Connection by the way). We jumped at the opportunity and have worked successfully in partnership with them over the months that followed. We published newsletters, wrote and shared articles, made heaps of calls, attended yet more webinars and have now helped them to make some very good connections with (normally) outbound tour operators.
What was interesting about this gradual leaning towards domestic travel is that for years I had wanted to do this and show off some of the amazing places we have in the UK, often prompted by requests from overseas tour operators who would say to me: “Mark, your knowledge of the UK is amazing, why don’t you offer inbound tours as well as promoting outbound?” I dabbled with a few itineraries here and there but outbound adventure businesses always took priority and I never really found the time to do it – there was always some fantastic far-flung place to promote.
Clearly now was the time to make it happen though. Having travelled and walked in almost every corner of Britain over the years, I knew how many places we have here on our doorstep. And I knew that a new business was about to evolve. At the same time, we were super-busy as a consultancy, telling our clients to make themselves stronger, helping them to use their downtime wisely and to follow the Best Practice Toolkit we’d developed for DMCs.
The Lightbulb Moment
Somewhere along the way, I had a lightbulb moment and realised we just had to do this. Eureka! I realised that we really do have a chance to begin something new in travel. To re-imagine domestic tourism and do it ethically and sustainably. If we start at domestic level and show how tourism can work in a clean, carbon-free, single-use-plastic-free, crowd-free, active and healthy way within our own country, then maybe we can lead the way and influence more people to do this once international travel re-commences. And then all we need to so is have clean fuel for planes and we have Utopia!
I found the name I wanted and (amazingly!) the domain name for Natural Britain wasn’t already taken. I snapped it up and we then tried to figure out how the hell I’d find the time to create a website, source all of the product, write, design, load, etc, etc. Then another light-bulb moment, this time on a Zoom call with an associate of my wonderful business coach Nell Op De Beek, who said “Mark, you’ll be surprised how many furloughed or laid off people there are out there who would absolutely jump at the chance of helping out with a well-intentioned project like this”. Is that legal? I asked. “Yes!” said the HR consultant in question. Brilliant! I knew exactly the person who might be able to volunteer, called her up and bingo, Gemma was on board, up and running and firing on all cylinders within a couple of weeks.
Since then, we’ve sifted through a host of mass market offerings and selected a handful of authentic and responsibly-operated experiences in the British Isles. From wild swimming off hidden beaches in north-west Scotland, to sky-running amongst Snowdonia’s mountain giants. From reconnecting with nature deep in the woods of Dartmoor, to foraging by kayak along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast or hiking trails in England’s stunning Lake District. And that’s just the beginning, a long waiting list is building and by the autumn, we may have as many as a hundred experiences loaded and available within the UK.
Domestic Tourism Back First
And when quarantine restrictions ease further, we’ll be happy to help outbound tour operators around the world (i.e. those wanting to offer adventures in the UK) to source the best (and the cleanest) the UK has to offer.
Voices From The Field – ATTA is providing this space for the benefit of our members for building awareness within our community. The views and opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily ATTA’s, nor do we endorse them by their publication.