With less than 100 days to go the countdown is finally upon us, as the Rugby World Cup trophy makes its away around Britain. But what about a host nation legacy plan? Who is set-up to deliver the longer term economic boost for Britain's nations and regions? Over the years VisitBritain, and, the wider tourism industry, has proven it can deliver.
From 18 September until 31 October Britain will once again shine in the global spotlight as we host the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with 48 matches spread across 11 host cities. We expect this to be the biggest RWC ever seen. A recent report published by tournament organisers suggests that the RWC will attract more international visitors than ever before (466,000), with those visitors contributing nearly £1 billion directly to the UK economy. Rugby may be a game played by men with odd shaped balls but the tangible benefits it can provide for Britain's union of host cities are clear to see.
We know from our own insights that sport tourists traditionally stay for longer, have a propensity to travel around the country and spend more money when doing so. Just imagine all the extra cash being spent by international fans at local tourist attractions, restaurants and bars throughout the tournament. I can hear the 'kerching' of Britain's tourism tills from here!
Our collaborative work with key stakeholders has been under way for quite some time and we are fully engaged with the Rugby World Cup organisers and, of course, the RFU, to deliver our plans for before, during and after the tournament. We will make sure activity around the biggest rugby event ever seen leads to a measurable increase in visits and spends across the country - and, in turn, significant benefits to the wider UK economy.
We achieved it with the 2012 London Olympics, and then Scotland witnessed record levels of inbound visits after the successful hosting of both the Ryder Cup and Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Yorkshire's visitor numbers shot up considerably after staging the Grand Depart for the Tour de France last year. So much so in fact, that our friends in Yorkshire have decided to create a new stand-alone annual Tour de Yorkshire cycling event.
The unpredictable bounce of a rugby ball can be used to describe the chronicled irregularity of international tourism across Britain's cities at times. We simply couldn't predict where the tourists would land and in some cases why. But we are working hard to address this imbalance and push as many visitors around the country as possible. Through our hard work, the international GREAT tourism campaign, and dare I say it, favourable exchange rates, this irregular trend has shifted with all UK areas seeing significant increases in visits last year, including Scotland (11%), Wales (7%) and London (4%) respectively. To further boost these figures, the England Rugby World Cup will give us an opportunity to highlight certain cities which simply wouldn't have been on the radar of overseas tourists in the past - namely, Gloucester, Leicester and Exeter.
A key part of our role both prior and during the Rugby World Cup across Britain will be to support the 3,000 accredited media who will be covering the tournament and making sure they have enough content and story ideas outside of game time. And believe me, there will be plenty of airtime to fill. As there's such a gap between games we will be pushing the message that Britain (in comparison to some) is a small place and that, if based in London, you're never more than three hours away from any of the host cities. There will be a potential audience of 4 billion people watching across the tournament so we'll make sure the best destination message is beamed directly into potential visitor's homes around the globe.
World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper claimed this week that the tournament could do more for the British economy than the 2012 London Olympic Games. A hard act to follow indeed, but VisitBritain will be there side-by-side ensuring those economic benefits are spread right across the country. Inbound tourism is a valuable part of an exporting economy and, with the help of large sporting events, we'll continue to play a key role in growing it.
Christopher Rodrigues is the current Chairman of both VisitBritain and the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association.