Taking on the role of Managing Director for the Falkland Islands Tourist Board was never going to be a straightforward task.
An Overseas Territory located 7,000 miles from the UK, the Falklands is one of those destinations that everybody has heard of and yet few people truly know. Having set up home in Stanley last July, I continue to be amazed and thrilled by these Islands on a daily basis.
We’ve just received the latest visitor statistics showing that 2012 was the best year for tourism in the Falklands since records began. Nearly 7,800 land-based tourists travelled to the Islands, an increase of 17% over 2011, with 4,234 visitors coming from the UK alone. Leisure tourists (excluding those visiting friends and relatives or travelling on business) grew by a massive 52% to 1,937 arrivals, the second best year on record only topped by 2007, the 25th anniversary of the Falkland Islands conflict.
Visitor arrivals in 2013, including cruise passengers and domestic tourists, are expected to total 53,000 spending more than £10million.
For a small destination with just 2,500 residents, this is phenomenal. These impressive figures are no doubt in part attributable to last year being the 30th anniversary of the conflict. But how do we build on this?
Everyone THINKS they know the Falklands, but there is a great deal more for visitors than what is typically perceived.
For example, these islands are home to an incredibly diverse wildlife (not just penguins!)...Black-browed albatross, elephant seals and sea lions, orcas and killer whales, porpoises and dolphins. There are nearly 200 native species of plants, awesome mountain ranges and a never-ending coastline with pristine, sandy beaches. We also enjoy more hours of sunshine than the UK.
The Falklands makes for a fantastic holiday experience whether this is on its own or as part of a wider itinerary including destinations such as Chile or Antarctica, and we will continue to work with our trade partners to get this message out there.
Awareness of what the Falklands have to offer isn’t the only challenge. As well as the usual issues facing a remote destination – such as the logistics of getting here and maintaining good trade relations from afar – we can factor politics into the mix. In the past year that has meant dealing with a cruise boycott, which I’m delighted to say has now been resolved.
This past year we’ve focused on doing a few things well. We exhibited at World Travel Market for the first time since the 1980s, something we intend to repeat this year. The UK remains the largest source market for the Falklands. At a time when many agents are looking at trimming programmes rather than adding to their brochures it’s crucial for us to have a presence.
We’ve invested in our representation and have a robust programme in place to build on and enhance relationships with UK agents and operators via a dedicated team at Keene Comms in London.
We have also nurtured niche target markets. This has included attending a Bird Fair in August and hosting a group of birding specialist operators here in the Falklands in February. Feedback was incredibly positive with one participant describing the wildlife as “overwhelming”.
Digital and social media are going to be a significant focus going forward. Our Facebook page now has an impressive 34,500 fans, with more channels to follow soon. It’s an exciting time for the tourist board as we evolve from a government department to a company in our own right, with a new tourism development plan and a new travel trade association in the pipeline.
First and foremost the mantra for everything that we do has to be ‘out of sight, not out of mind’. So I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported the Falklands over the past year. And for anyone who thinks they know the Falklands, or simply hasn’t visited yet, why not come and see for yourself? You may be surprised and you’ll definitely be smitten.