Well I’m pleased that our tourist industry can move on from the scenes of rioting thugs and the devastation of our high streets featured in my last blog and we can focus on one of the biggest events yet to arrive on our streets. Judging from the chaos on the streets last Sunday caused by the Olympic bike trials there is still lots for us to learn to get London in shape for the games.
I’m hoping that companies are going to have the foresight to also put in some planning to see how their London employees can work from home. This should minimise the strain that will be put on our public transport system and enable visitors to enjoy our city. We could also follow the example of our Olympic role model Victoria Pendleton and get on our bikes as urged by the Sunday Times. According to a recent study The British Cycling Economy we did half a billion more miles than we did in 2007 on our bikes but fewer than we cycled in the 1940s with 1.3m new cyclists in the UK last year. A good way to keep us fit and I’ve found it one of the best ways to get around the capital.
I’ve been playing host to some friends from Nepal over the last week and I have to say how proud I was to show them the sights of London as we walked along the river bank near TowerBridge from The Tate. Sometimes as a Londoner I get a bit blasé and it takes the awe of my visitors to make me realise how lucky I am to live here. I took them along the river in one of the fast Thames Clippers and on the tube at lightening speed from the impressive cavernous Canary Wharf station back to Southwark. I realised how fast the city has developed and how good its public transport can be. We enjoyed the fantastic outdoor photo exhibition “Rites of Life” from Anders Ryman and the free open air Scoop theatre near City Hall and then went on to enjoy the free open air jazz concert at Canary Wharf gazing up at the skyscrapers and the stars. If you’ve not seen any of these attractions yet, don’t miss them.
Talking of stars I thought I’d share some thoughts about some rising stars in the travel industry which I noticed on browsing some recent IMRG Hitwise statistics on the top 100 UK retail websites. The figures show you the traffic in May 2011 versus May 2010 and the change in their ranking over this 12 month period. What struck me when I viewed the figures was how the industry has been hit overall as the majority of travel sites have seen a decline in their traffic.
The extraordinary number of disasters such as the ash cloud, Fukishima and the Arab spring all took their toll on the airline industry. Those sites catering to domestic travel have fared better.
The companies that caught my attention were the nimble low key players which have not spent lots on advertising but have slowly and stealthily built up sizeable online businesses without any retail shops. Despite the battering that Travel Republic suffered from the CAA court case it has still managed to see a good increase in traffic together with On the Beach. What was interesting when viewing their social presence was that both companies have a sizeable number of Facebook fans (both over 60,000) which may have helped with their increase in traffic as Hitwise was reporting as early as May 2010 that social traffic was exceeding Google search traffic.
In analysing the Facebook stats for these top websites I was struck with how some players like Jet2, Monarch and BMI are starting out late on their learning journey into social and will have a lot of catching up to do with the likes of Virgin Atlantic who are considered by many to be one of the social pioneers. In addition the fan base for traditional operators such as Thomson, First Choice, Hoseasons, The Trainline and National Express shows that they have not yet fully understood the power of social media.
Interestingly Thomas Cook shows that it managed to maintain its position in the Hitwise top 100 sites. The figures demonstrate to me the importance of consolidation for tour operators in this tough market as consumers have changed behaviour and are doing their own packages. As the blog showed last week any recovery in travel patterns is still weak and the main increase in outbound has been with VFR (visiting friends and relatives) only. We are still not out of the woods. Long haul travel has taken a hit with the double whammy of high air passenger departure taxes and the squeeze on our household incomes. All the conversations I had with the trade at the Institute of Travel and Tourism (ITT) conference show that operators are feeling the fragility of the market. With concerns over the collapse of the euro and the recent stock market dive some would argue that 2012 will be tougher still but as I’m the eternal optimist I see some glimmers of hope in the Hitwise stats.
The key is to stay close to your customers, focus on a niche and differentiate through service. An interesting fact that demonstrates the power of mobile was the staggering 216% year on year increase reported by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) on the use of mobile browsing in the UK. This is testament to the importance of making sure customers can use your website on their smartphones. In addition the BRC research shows a promising 34% increase on the previous quarter on overseas visitors using UK retail websites.
If the London transport chaos resembles what we saw last weekend there will be plenty of Londoners looking to rent out their property and take an overseas break. Where are all the Olympic getaway operators?
Do share what you are doing to celebrate the Olympics. Are you one of the lucky ones who got Olympic tickets or have you already planned your escape? Do share your thoughts with us.
 Sunday Times 21 August 2011, Page 9 “On your bike, Britons, and pick the green and healthy route into work”
 The British Cycling Economy, Alexander Grous, 2011 London School of Economics (LSE)
Web Reference for British Cycling Economy Report: http://corporate.sky.com/documents/pdf/press_releases/2011/the_british_cycling_economy