GOLF BUSINESS NEWS.com interviews Andrew Cooke – CEO & Founder of Golf Tourism England
Andrew, welcome. I believe that GTE is just completing its second year of operations. The whole thing was your idea – is that right?
I think it is fair to say there have been multiple voices craving a focussed golf tourism organisation in England. I just really picked up the baton with something I was passionate about and believed in, and began piecing together key components I felt were missing in England’s golf tourism landscape.
The success of the Home Nations as a whole when it comes to attracting inbound tourists has been a tremendous boost to their respective economies. England hasn’t really enjoyed the cumulative benefits from a joined up approach and we believe Golf Tourism England is making in-roads to moving the dial on that front.
You said at the time that you wanted to be recognised as the body that represented every aspect of the golf tourism industry in England. That was a pretty ambitious target – how have you been getting on?
Our vision remains intact and very much part of our day-to-day focus. The central pillar in our approach is product development. England is blessed with some of the best golf courses anywhere in the world and we have been working behind the scenes with golf courses, hotels and service providers to increase the accessibility and awareness in key markets to drive consumer enquiries.
We have created a strong digital footing, which has allowed us to begin to provide interested trade parties with a ‘One-Stop-Shop’ to gather information and look at how they can best service their clients.
We have embarked on a cluster strategy as a tool to unite stakeholders in regions to present a more appealing consumer experience and certainly a more rounded trade option from a selling perspective.
We have been working with marketing channels to promote all aspects of the membership and the wider golf tourism sector in England. We remain engaged with major events such as the International Golf Travel Market, which will allow us to integrate our product development strategy more thoroughly.
There is still a tremendous amount of work to do, but we have the support of such organisations as Visit England, England Golf and our membership, which has helped us expedite our development.
We are receiving such positive feedback on the efforts being made that we are confident we are on the right track and plan to continue on very much in the same vein.
Golf holidays in Scotland, Wales and Ireland have been strongly promoted by their national tourism bodies for many years now. How come England was left behind?
I think we can only admire the efforts that have been made from our neighbours.
The value of their collective efforts, both at trade fairs and in wider marketing has been a real benefit to how their golf economies have grown. Clearly Scotland and Ireland have been recognised as unique destinations for golf, with Scotland’s position as the spiritual home of the game and Ireland as one of the bucket list experiences for any golfer.
Wales has taken tremendous strides, and with their hosting of The Ryder Cup, made a real collaborative focus on educating the market and driving inbound guests.
It has to be said that there have been some admirable and professionally executed regional efforts in England over the years. In our view, there has just been the absence of a centralised body to promote the whole of England as a serious golf tourism destination.
England has never really promoted itself in key feeder markets in a way that demonstrates the diversity and appeal of some of our great courses. There has also been a disconnection between the wider leisure, cultural and entertainment attractions across England, which is one of our key points of difference, and something we aim to connect to the golf product.
Given the volume and quality of our courses and service providers, Golf Tourism England aims to evolve the collective product development and use this as the lead catalyst in driving international interest in England as a leading golf holiday destination.
Did everyone see the need for your initiative to succeed or was there some apathy and even hostility?
If I look back on the early days, the concept struck an immediate chord and was picked up swiftly by a lot of golf clubs, resorts and hotels.
We receive enquiries on a daily basis, with the majority of major golf stakeholders looking to collaborate and be part of our journey.
The wider economic impact stands to benefit more than just our membership, which has been key in the wider acceptance of our plans.
There was certainly no hostility, just a good amount of enthusiasm and in some instances curiosity as to how golf tourism could become a positive factor in companies’ P&L’s.
Where has the funding come from?
GTE is a self-funded organisation, which is further subsidised by its membership program.
Visit England has partnered with trade initiatives and some of the DMO’s, such as Visit Kent, Visit Cornwall and Visit Norfolk which have contributed to select initiatives. This has allowed us to make some strong inroads quite quickly.
What are the benefits of being a member of GTE?
Having done much of the groundwork, and established the organisation as one that is recognised nationally and internationally, we can now focus on our true raison d’être, which is to market England internationally as a leading golf destination.
Much of GTE’s initial work has been encouraging collaboration between neighbouring clubs that may have previously seen themselves as competitors. We are now seeing many of these ‘clusters’ becoming far more active in their group marketing approach which, given that we are asking golf club secretaries and managers to consider the whole new industry of tourism on top of all the additional responsibilities that have been incorporated into their job in the last decade, has been very rewarding.
This has laid the foundation for us to create brands from these clusters, and begin to put marketing strategies in place for each based on their regional location and associated transport links and local service providers.
Members will, of course, benefit from best practice insight, workshops and cross marketing; the use of our logo is becoming increasingly important as a demonstration of a club’s commitment to offering a quality visitor experience, and is fast becoming a mark of quality assurance.
However, the key benefit is that our members have an organisation focused on ensuring that the profile of their golf clubs is being elevated around the world, and that we are creating world class itineraries, that are accessible and bookable through our network of tour operators and partners.
How many members do you have?
We are approaching our 200th member, which is in line with our forecast. We have some interesting opportunities around the corner and have many on-going discussions with new potential members.
I understand that you have partnership arrangements with the likes of England Golf– could you explain how these work and what you are working on together?
We work with many of golf’s established organisations and continue to look at where we can partner to the benefit of English golf tourism as a whole.
Before you started there were already some local and regional initiatives like England’s Golf Coast and Atlantic Links. Have you been able to encourage any similar initiatives?
I think the work from some of the regional initiatives has been the exact direction England needs to move towards.
We have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people and clubs behind these initiatives and continue to collaborate, looking at how GTE can enhance their proposition and increase their awareness in market.
The uptake of this type of approach has been very positive and the cluster strategy we have in place is testament to that. We have some very eager and interested parties on the table right now, which we feel will help shape the perception of England’s validity as a world class golf destination.
The ideals and framework are there, we just need to help unlock the reality.
Do golf clubs understand the benefits of working in groups? If not, what do you tell them they will gain?
In most instances the cumulative attraction model is something that resonates.
For me one of the most redeeming features of the GTE plan is how we have unlocked certain itineraries. It is fascinating to watch how eye-opening some discussions have been when we have shared the opportunity around product development, especially when you take into account the quality of courses, their close proximity and how a small increase in tee-time bookings can greatly improve the top-line.
The Golf Tourism England website www.golftourismengland.com is clearly your shop window. Who are your target markets and what do you do to drive traffic to the site?
Our website is a moving feast, as it is for most organisations. We are continually adding members and clusters, along with interested trade partners, who are using the platform to find out more about the available
We have both a trade and consumer interface plan – so guests can access a one-stop-shop for their England golf experience. Developments and advancements are continual, so will be progressing the quality and depth on a daily basis.
Have you been able to start building a database for email marketing?
Yes. We have an expansive global golf and leisure tour operator network and a network of golf courses, resorts, hotels and service providers.
Our aim is to make the consumer experience as accessible and straight forward as possible.
We want to connect service providers to the world of golf, so tour operators have confidence in their ability to book and be managed professionally.
In terms of reaching the overseas markets I understand that you have established GTE’s presence at IGTM and also exhibited at the PGA Show in Orlando. Will you continue using golf and travel trade exhibitions?
Many of the golf trade shows have such strong foundations that partnering them was the obvious choice to immediately get in front of our desired audience.
We have seen some strong results, connecting with new potential partners and injecting fresh interest into the product development, that we plan to expand our strategy to quite literally lay out our stall to move the inbound golf visitor dial.
Have you tried any of the consumer golf exhibitions?
I think this is one for the future, but we plan to excite and educate the consumer market through our marketing channels. Shows and consumer focussed events will certainly play their part.
Have you been able to make an estimate of how much the English Golf Tourism market is worth?
We have embarked on an extensive research & analysis program to help benchmark England’s current market valuation. There have been in depth studies previously conducted that have produced estimated figures, which we have factored into the capacity potential.
England has almost twice as many courses as Scotland and Ireland combined, yet their golf tourism industries are worth over three times that of England; so there’s no question the English golf tourism market can be worth a lot more than it currently is!
A major part of our GTE strategy will be translating our findings and educating stake holders on the opportunity, and then creating and following the critical pathway to realising that opportunity.
What are you hoping to achieve as a result of your membership of the All Party Parliamentary Golf Group?
It is great to see that the economic and in fact societal benefits to golf are being represented at this level.
Golf has quite a complex series of organisations who perform a variety of roles, which can cause confusion. For us, we are focussed on the tourism aspect and the positive attributes our program can bring to the nations golf stakeholders.
We are looking forward to growing our relationship with such groups to the wider benefit of all.
What are the key priorities for the next two years?
Enhancing our network of stakeholders and service partners to grow our product development.
We have plans in place to increase the itineraries and the functionality for connecting to trade partners and consumers in the short term.
We are working closely with Visit England, who remain steadfast in their support for GTE’s efforts which gives us further access and insight into how we increase the footprint and interaction of GTE in the broader tourism framework.
How do you plan to achieve these aims?
Lots of hard work, support from our members and those who believe in the opportunity to grow the tourism benefits from this great game!
Andrew Cooke, thank you very much
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