England's Literary Greats Discover England Fund Project
18th September 2018
The £40m Discover England Fund (DEF) has been one of the few opportunities for destinations to collectively bid for internationally focused product development grant funding in recent years. This meant that there was an obvious opportunity to exploit the tourism potential of famous literary figures such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen as they have a significant following across the world and in the United States in particular. The Shakespeare 400th and Jane Austen 200th anniversaries in 2016 and 2017 and the opportunity to embrace Nottingham’s status as UNESCO City of Literature 2018 provided a rationale for Hampshire (Jane Austen), Warwickshire (Shakespeare) and Nottinghamshire (DH Lawrence and Byron) to bid for DEF funding as ‘England’s Literary Greats’ in 2017/18.
Focusing specifically on the US market, the Year 1 project identified a strong appetite for literary tourism trips in the near future from both the general population (70%) and literary enthusiasts (76%), that was even higher than Visit England’s previous findings (51%). The difference between these two markets are that being able to immerse oneself in authentic literary destinations (Bath, Stratford and Chawton) is at the heart of often longer group trips for enthusiasts, whereas the general population are often more motivated by day trip visits to experience places associated with fictional characters (Harry Potter, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes) that also feature an attractive linked scenic and historic backdrop.
Amongst US tour operators we found that demand for literary tourism is growing in tandem with screen tourism and that Jane Austen and Shakespeare are the most popular writers. Jane Austen was seen as multi-generational and having broad appeal in the US; maybe not too surprising as the film industry continues to produce modern adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels (e.g. Lost in Austen (2008), Clueless (1995), Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) etc.) that are often targeted at a younger female audience. The need to continue to raise awareness of places outside of London, capitalising on those that link with film locations were also a key opportunity. Ultimately, the project developed and took to market a series of well received themed itineraries, undertook travel trade training, developed film and image collateral and ran associated FAMs.
The opportunity to bid for Year 2 2018/19 DEF amplification funding motivated the project to collectively assess some key learnings and opportunities from Year 1 and submit. Those learnings were that the Shakespeare product was mature and well known in the US and that the greatest opportunity for growth was Jane Austen’s Hampshire, followed by developing more product around Robin Hood and Byron in Nottinghamshire. An extension would enable more in depth bookable product development facilitation to take place by further packaging of key attractions, tour guides and transport providers and having these on sale. It would also give us a means of creating more detailed itineraries that embraced literary figures and associated film locations across broader geographies with accommodation and attraction pricing detail and develop new and enhanced relationships with in-market travel trade and in-bound DMCs, tour operators and ground handlers.
Fortunately our £115k bid was successful and we have until March 2019 to take our project to the next step, starting with taking our refreshed itineraries and emerging bookable tours to Visit Britain’s Destination Britain North America travel trade event in October. Maybe we can persuade the US travel trade that ‘The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.’ Jane Austen, Emma.