In this article, rural tourism PR consultant and journalist Megan Allen will define rural tourism, take a look at what’s driving an increase in footfall to the British countryside, attempt to predict the future and explain what it all means for rural land and business owners.
Official statistics from Visit Britain, the Government’s tourism body, show that in the first nine months of 2017, there were a record 12.7 million visits to English regions outside London. People are waking up to what the British countryside has to offer, and it’s more than just a weekend in the countryside.
What is rural tourism?
Visitor experience is what lies at the heart of rural tourism; whether it’s a night under the stars on a camping field or a pint of local ale in the pub, visitors are looking for experiences that will define their holiday and create lasting memories. It’s not just about rolling countryside, people want the brands, stories and communities that lie at the heart of rural Britain. Businesses from farm shops to distilleries are driving rural tourism and creating more opportunities than ever.
#OMGB (the official hashtag for Visit Britain - Oh My GREAT Britain)
So, what’s causing this increase in footfall? I personally like to think it’s because, as a community, we’re doing such a cracking job of promoting what a brilliant and diverse country Britain is. But, realistically there are many factors to think about.
Brexit is one of them. Staycations increased in 2017 as, with the pound weakening, more people looked to holiday at home rather than pay for expensive holidays abroad. Similarly, it attracted more visitors from other countries as they got more for their money.
Social media is also a huge factor in driving tourism to rural areas. There has been an increase in rural influencers and media outlets on visual platforms such as Instagram that are pushing the country lifestyle and it’s attracting people out of the cities.
Travel trend predictions
Over the next few years, I think there are going to be a few factors that will further impact visitor numbers to rural areas.
- Off-peak bookings will increase as people tighten their belts and look for holiday opportunities in the Autumn and Winter.
- As demand increases, so will competition; alternative accommodation will grow ever popular. Tree houses, camper vans and gypsy caravans are just some that spring to mind.
- Visitor experience will continue to increase. Again, due to demand and competition, rural tourism businesses will have to think outside the box to make their attraction stand out.
- Although all eyes will be on London for The Royal Wedding in May, it offers a great opportunity to attract visitors to Britain from all over the World.
- Time and money are precious, so instead of sitting still, tourists will make the most of their holiday and take a road trip around a region or country. Routes such as the North Coast 500 in Scotland have proven there is a demand for this type of holiday.
- High streets will become more of a cultural hub, offering tourists and locals a diverse range of restaurants, arts and attractions.
What this means for landowners
There are positives and negatives to an increase in rural tourism but in the wake of Brexit, with more landowners looking to diversify, there’s never been a better time to start thinking about rural tourism as an option.
This can mean anything from providing a safe area on your land for wild campers to stay for the night to a complete heritage attraction centre; providing skill sessions to outdoor cinema nights.
My advice to any landowner or rural business that is thinking of diversifying to accommodate the rise in rural tourism is to think about your heritage, your land and how you can utilise your assets to tell your own story and create a brilliant visitor experience.