Visit Birmingham, the city’s official leisure tourism body, is currently running a six month training programme with Kuoni Academy for travel agents in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Amritsar. The sessions will raise awareness of Birmingham’s attractions; the city’s central location as a gateway to the rest of the UK; and its direct air links to Asia, following Air India’s commitment to increase its Birmingham-Delhi-Amritsar operation to a daily service from November.
The initiative builds on the rising number of visits to Birmingham from India – with a 71 per cent increase last year, from 8,261 (2012) to 14,131 (2013). The city attracts more visitors from India than any other destination in England outside of London, and is ranked second in terms of total numbers of visitors from India in the last four years.
The aim of the programme, which runs until September, is to train between 200 and 300 travel agents, some of whom already promote the destination, as well as new agents. The workshops will provide a grounding in Greater Birmingham’s tourism offer – including the region’s attractions, culture, heritage, retail and food – as well as the new developments set to transform Birmingham in 2015. These include the £600million redevelopment of New Street station and the new Grand Central shopping complex, anchored by the 250,000 sq ft John Lewis department store, one of the largest outside London.
Visit Birmingham’s Director of Marketing Services, Emma Gray, travelled to India this summer to launch the programme with a delegation that also included representatives from Birmingham Airport and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Gray commented: “Approximately 80 per cent of the Indian market book through a travel intermediary, so it made sense to invest time in launching our first training workshops in India to showcase to agents what our region has to offer.
“Birmingham’s profile is growing considerably on the international stage with a significant increase in visitor numbers and influential global publications such as The Times of India and China Daily highlighting the city’s leisure offer. It is clear that we are becoming an attractive holiday and business destination to people in India.
“Tourism plays a huge part in Birmingham’s economic success – with a £5.1billion boost in 2012. Initial sessions have been well received, so we look forward to welcoming a new wave of Indian visitors to the city as a result of this training programme and further campaigns in the Asian market next year.”
Birmingham attracted more international visitors last year than ever before.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that there were almost a million visits to the city in 2013 (941,000) compared with 713,000 in 2012 – a 32 per cent rise. This compares with an increase nationally of just 5.6 per cent and 8.6 per cent in London. Birmingham is now the fourth most visited city in the UK, behind London, Edinburgh and Manchester.
Mandy Haque, Sales & Travel Trade Relationship Manager at Birmingham Airport, said: “Since Air India commenced direct Birmingham-Delhi-Amritsar flights last year, more than 80,000 passengers have used the four times weekly service and this week the carrier has announced that it is committed to launching daily services from November. This will deliver an extra 1,500 seats on the route and give more choice, flexibility and opportunity for Indian tourists to fly into Birmingham and explore the many jewels that this region has to offer.
“Educating travel agents is vital for airports as they can influence a customer’s decision on where they fly from so partnering with Visit Birmingham on this programme and developing new relationships in India was a great opportunity for Birmingham Airport.”
Debbie Beardall, Trade & Education Development Manager at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, added: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Birmingham Airport and Visit Birmingham to boost awareness amongst Indian travel agents about the wealth of attractions, culture, heritage and beautiful countryside all within a stone’s throw of Birmingham.
“Shakespeare is extremely popular in Asia and the Shakespeare Family Homes in Stratford-upon-Avon, just 30 minutes from Birmingham, are already a magnet for visitors from India.
“The travel workshops have given us an opportunity to showcase just how much we have to offer for the multi-generation groups who visit from India, and we look forward to welcoming even more, once daily flights come into operation.”