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Visitor experience: are you being served?

Visitor experience: are you being served?

English Tourism Week 2015 (14-22 March 2015) is a yearly celebration showcasing visitor experiences and the value tourism brings to local communities and the national economy. Last year a big variety of local and national events, discounts and special promotions were on offer, including museum events, exhibitions, sports experiences, crafts workshops and regional celebrations like the Big Chilterns Weekend. Public and private tourism operators are aware of how crucial it is to improve visitor experience, yet you often find old leaflets lying around museums and websites that have not been updated for several weeks if not months. Budget and digital skills constraints are often responsible for this. In some organisations the website and social media accounts are manned by volunteers so they might lack continuity and consistency, especially if the tasks are shared by several people. Tourism is a highly competitive industry; therefore the quality of visitor experience is key to revenue. Using tourism data, Euromonitor International has ranked the world’s top 100 most-visited cities and London comes in at number four. London attracts more tourists than chic Paris and vibrant New York. A recent UK survey also places London in the top spot. Other popular destinations are Cambridge and Royal Windsor, especially with Asian visitors. Monitoring visitor experience is also crucial to cultural organisations. ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions), which this year is celebrating 25 years, is the professional and lobby organisation representing museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites and leisure attractions. Its members comprise over 2200 tourist sites that boast over 119 million domestic and overseas visitors each year. ALVA’s 2014 report...
What’s happening to our country pubs?

What’s happening to our country pubs?

Pubs are disappearing at a fast rate in cities and in the countryside, where they have always been at the centre of the community alongside the church hall and village shop. Changing habits – like drinking in to take advantage of lower supermarket prices – the growing popularity of bar chains and property speculation are taking their toll on public houses across Britain. According to CAMRA, a British non-profit organisation campaigning for real ale and community pubs, 29 pubs are closing each week. CAMRA has been lobbying the Government to close planning loopholes in order to save pubs. Tim Page, CAMRA’s chief executive, explains: “In England, it’s currently possible to convert a pub into a betting shop, pay-day loan store or supermarket without the need for planning permission, making it far too easy for pubs valued by the community to be lost without local people having a say. Given the huge contribution that pubs make to community life in Britain, we believe this cannot be right.” Research by CAMRA discovered that pubs support over 1m jobs nationally and contribute around £80,000 to a local economy each year. Although 75% of adults believe that pubs make a valid contribution to community life, two pubs are converted to supermarkets every week. Many politicians have joined the fight to save British pubs, so do speak to your local MP if you have any concerns. In praise of country pub food British cuisine had been suffering bad press for years until a new breed of chefs injected fresh enthusiasm into traditional dishes, making the best of local ingredients and suppliers. However, the pub...
New Year’s resolutions – why not try something new?

New Year’s resolutions – why not try something new?

January is the traditional month for making New Year’s resolutions and for sharing our best intentions for the coming year with family and friends. It’s the perfect time to get out of a rut and sort out our life. January is ‘all change’, whether it’s our job, relationships, home or lifestyle. Most of us feel a psychological need for renewal, both physical and mental. It can be a reaction to the holiday season, when we throw sensible routines out of the window, often leading to weight gain and unhealthy habits. So we start each year with ambitious plans to sort out our mind, body, and soul, but after the big buzz and enthusiasm of the first weeks, success is elusive. With all this in mind, we have come up with some ideas on how to combine fitness with enjoyment, so you don’t ditch your good intentions at the first hurdle. New Year’s resolutions: wellness tips Losing weight is not ‘mission impossible’ but it’s not easy to maintain that ideal weight. Our busy lives and sedentary jobs often lead to eating convenience, fatty foods and skipping exercise. It’s a well-known fact that most gym memberships are bought early in January but access cards end up languishing in a drawer come February. Walking for fun and fitness The NHS has recognised the benefits of walking with its campaign Walking for Health.  Walking groups are operating in many UK counties to suit all levels of fitness. The campaign’s website offers plenty of advice on how to start and, crucially, how to stay motivated. It also explains walking health benefits in great detail:...
How volunteering can help to preserve our natural environment

How volunteering can help to preserve our natural environment

It seems that people are finally cottoning onto the fact that since the Industrial Revolution, human society has inflicted untold damages on the natural environment. Fortunately, more and more organisations are undertaking green initiatives which advocate the use of energy saving devices in offices, creating products using sustainable materials, eliminating hazardous waste products from production processes and more. While some of these stories are truly inspiring, you don’t have to be a member of a multinational corporation to have a positive effect on the environment. In the UK, there are numerous organisations dedicated to conserving the countryside and its wildlife with which you can get involved today. Green organisations The Wildlife Trusts is an organisation consisting of 47 local Wildlife Trusts throughout the UK (check out this map to find your local branch). There are numerous causes you can donate to via the organisation, including: badger vaccination programmes, conservation appeals for various woodland areas, and protection initiatives for endangered species. For bird lovers, the organisation offers a scheme for buying bird feed from Vine House Farm, where a percentage of all profits will be funnelled back into environmental causes. However, for those looking for a more ‘hands-on’ approach to conserving the countryside, volunteers – corporations as well as individuals – are always highly appreciated. There are currently over 30,000 active volunteers throughout the 47 Wildlife Trusts in the UK, carrying out a series of activities including: community gardening, managing habitats, looking after nature reserves and wildlife, hedge-laying, giving lectures to children and more. To find out about volunteering opportunities with The Wildlife Trusts, please complete this online form and...
The historic hot spots of Dorchester

The historic hot spots of Dorchester

Situated on the banks of the River Frome, Dorchester is one of Britain’s most picturesque market towns; featuring cobbled streets, historic architecture and sites of abundant natural beauty. Aside from Dorchester’s visual delights, the town also has an incredibly rich history, and sites erected during the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman occupation and even the Neolithic era can still be viewed today. Here is a list of some of the town’s most exquisite historic hot spots, perfect for those looking take a trip back in time and gain some insights into the cultural traditions of our ancestors. Maumbury Rings Maumbury Rings is arguably Dorchester’s most famous site, and it was originally the location for a vast Neolithic monument. However, during the Roman occupation of Dorchester (approximately 100 AD), the site was transformed into an amphitheatre, used to host vast spectacles and entertain up to 10,000 people at once! During the 17th century, the site was transformed once again to become an artillery fort during the English Civil War. In the modern day, the site which was once used for gladiatorial games and public executions is now a popular spot for live bands and other festivities. Located only a few minutes away from the centre of town, Maumbury Rings is a must-visit if you are discovering Dorchester, particularly during the summer months. The Victorian Borough Gardens When exploring Dorchester, the Victorian Borough Gardens is an excellent place to catch a bite to eat, whether you’re bringing your own packed lunch or eating at the site’s popular refreshment kiosk. The site is also home to a stone obelisk, erected in 1899...
Tips for taking great Instagram photos on the go

Tips for taking great Instagram photos on the go

With over 200 million users, Instagram is now one of the most popular social media apps, doing for photography what Twitter did for blogging – giving users a mass platform with which to easily take, edit and share micro content. Modelled on the Polaroid photos of old, Instagram photos and videos are a distinctive square shape, with the added bonus of a set of packaged ‘filters’, which can be used to easily enhance your pictures. Whether you just want to share great looking photos of your activities with your friends and family, or if you’re just aiming for more followers, there are a few basic tips that will help you take great Instagram photos wherever you are. Photography basics and Instagram specifics In one of our last blog posts, we discussed a few ways you can improve your outdoor photography. Two of the most relevant here include abiding the ‘golden hours’ rule and the ‘rule of thirds’ – respectively due to smartphone cameras generally being lower quality than digital cameras (though this is changing), and due to the peculiarly square nature of an Instagram snap. Continuing with our casual photography series, we want to explore the specificities of ‘Instagramming’ when you’re on the move. It’s good to be familiar with these photography basics, but there’s also a few rules specific to phone pictures, and Instagram in particular. Use your inbuilt camera app One secret great ‘Instagrammers’ keep is that they don’t actually use Instagram to take most of their photographs: they use the native camera app that came with the smartphone. There’s a number of distinct advantages to this,...
HS2: A danger to the greenbelt?

HS2: A danger to the greenbelt?

The government’s planned High Speed 2 rail line has garnered a lot of criticism from groups across the political spectrum for a variety of reasons. It is a rail line initially planned to link only two British cities, and one that will result in the destruction of up to 50 ancient woodlands (a problem worth its own post). HS2, as the Department for Transport’s website argues: “will fundamentally improve rail infrastructure in this country, breaking with twentieth century railway thinking and practices.” However, with many groups arguing that it will be an expensive waste of money and permanently damage the green belt, many habitats, woods and forest, it’s worth analysing whether it will change our experience of the countryside forever. Positive environmental effects? On the HS2 website, there is a page entitled ‘Positive Environmental Effects’. Within it, they argue that HS2 will be positive for the environment as a whole, as it “will see millions of air and road trips move to rail, reducing carbon emissions and congestion, and the space it will create for freight will move hundreds of HGVs per hour off the roads.” On the surface, then, it appears that HS2 will have a positive impact on the environment, at least in terms of emissions. However, environmental groups have been sceptical, with a government environmental audit committee concluding that “at best, the [emissions] savings are likely to be relatively small”. Furthermore, the government is yet to take into account the impact HS2 will have on our landscape and countryside. Their plan to offset the resultant losses in biodiversity that will be caused by the destruction of...
How to take interesting outdoor photographs

How to take interesting outdoor photographs

Whether you’re taking in the sights of London’s most renowned historic buildings or enjoying the serene landscapes of Britain’s countryside, taking some excellent outdoor photographs is a great way to remember your adventure and inform your friends about your explorations on social media. While you don’t have to be a professional photographer wielding a £2000+ camera to take a great photograph, there are some important rules to abide by if you want your photographs to be just as vivid and beautiful as the memories you have. The golden hours There are two specific time periods during the day which are ideal for taking outdoor photographs: the hour after the sun comes up and the hour before it goes down. There’s something incredibly enchanting about photographs which are taken during the golden hours, arguably because the gentle lighting creates a soft touch which is not replicable at other times of the day. The shadows casted by buildings, trees and vegetation during the golden hours also help to create a magical ambience. While it’s not always convenient to go exploring during these hours, you should still take the time of day into account. For instance, photographs taken in the midday sun tend to have a harshness about them which is not particularly pleasant, so try aim for the morning or late afternoon/evening. Rule of thirds Creating balance in your photographs is important, and this can be achieved by implementing the tried and tested ‘rule of thirds’. The rule advocates dividing the image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, using imaginary lines to balance the picture. It is suggested that for landscape...
Navigating British farmland

Navigating British farmland

The British countryside is neither daunting nor dangerous, and little is required by way of equipment in order to enjoy it! You’ll be pleased to hear that the preparation you actually need to put into venturing out into the countryside is quite minimal. In terms of vital items, if you have a decent pair of walking shoes, a waterproof of some description and a water bottle, you are more or less set. Technology can even take the pain out of navigating, particularly if you’re on one of our tours where you can let your smartphone or tablet take the strain (in which case you may want to invest in a battery life solution, as discussed in a previous blog post). It’s therefore easier than ever to physically and materially prepare for your walk through the countryside. However, the British countryside is as diverse as it is scenic. Chances are, you will be passing through villages, woodland, and privately-owned farmland on any walk through the countryside. There are some general rules that are worth familiarising yourself with to ensure your own enjoyment and safety, as well as the happiness of any local landowners, habitats, or animals. The countryside is for everyone to enjoy, which means we all need to play our part in preserving it. The Countryside Code The Countryside Code was established in 2004 to replace the older Country Code. It focuses on three key mantras: ‘Respect. Protect. Enjoy.’ It’s rather self-explanatory, involving ways of respecting other people who live and travel in the countryside, the ways you can protect environments in which you are a visitor, and ways...
Famous sights of the Thames waterway

Famous sights of the Thames waterway

The River Thames stretches over 210 miles of southern England, flowing from near the quaint town of Kemble in Gloucestershire all the way through to London and out into the North Sea. Along this vast stretch of water there are numerous attractions, including royal castles, museums, famous gardens, palaces, bucolic fields, rolling hills, and of course, some excellent taverns to enjoy a traditional British meal with a pint of ale. Here are some of the must-see attractions located in the immediate vicinity of the River Thames. Tate Britain Tate Britain (formerly know as the Tate Gallery) is home to an exquisite collection of British art which dates all the way back to the 16th century. Since opening in 1897, Tate Britain has expanded to showcase historic works by artists such as William Blake and J.M.W. Turner, as well as the works of more contemporary artists such as John Latham, Tracey Emin and Douglas Gordon. Whether you’re a connoisseur of fine art or are simply interested in having a glimpse into one of Britain’s foregone eras, Tate Britain is an excellent place to visit if you’re strolling along the Thames waterway in London. Towns and villages Historically, the River Thames was a major transportation artery, meaning some of Britain’s most picturesque towns and villages are conveniently located along its banks. For instance, Windsor in Berkshire is the home to the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world, but the town also features tranquil rural walkways, the gorgeous Savill Garden and numerous fine dining establishments where you can eat and drink to your heart’s content. In addition to this, you...

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