Our campaign to rename Essex will help Covid tourism recover

After finding that many people associate Essex with reality TV stereotypes, the council is highlighting the county’s other charms, writes Lisa Bone, tourism and area marketing manager at Visit Essex, Essex CC.

Visit the Essex Tourist Countryside

Goals

Raise awareness of all that Essex has to offer and encourage visitors to take their ‘stay’ in the county

Time scale

July 2021 – March 2023

Cost for the authority

£300,000

Staff working on the project

Three

Results

Increased value of tourism to Essex’s economy and better understanding of what Essex is really about

Contact

[email protected]

Before the pandemic, tourism contributed £3.6billion to Essex’s economy and employed some 64,000 people. The tourism and hospitality industry has been hit harder than most by Covid-19, so we decided to develop a Covid recovery plan that highlighted the need for a campaign to support businesses that have suffered to help recovery.

Lisa Bone, Head of Tourism and Territory Marketing at Visit Essex, Essex CC

The primary objective of Visit Essex, a public/private organization hosted by Essex CC, is to increase the value of tourism. There are several ways we intend to do this:

  • Encourage locals to stay local and spend local and invite their friends and family to visit. We want people to experience these things on their doorstep and build their civic pride.
  • Extend the Season: We want people to visit off-season during the shoulder seasons and especially the fall.
  • Get people to stay longer and therefore spend more.

Of the 54 million visitors who come to the county, only 3% stay overnight, which is extremely low compared to other counties and destinations. Its proximity to London and easy access make Essex a popular destination for day trips, easy for visitors to return home and therefore not enjoy a short break or longer holiday in the county.

Unconscious

In 2021 Visit Essex received external funding to help the recovery of the tourism industry. We conducted research to determine why people visited and why non-visitors did not visit.

We need to publicize everything else we have to offer: picturesque villages, medieval towns, seal watching, nature reserves and vineyards

On the latter there was a general lack of awareness of what Essex really is and people only knew the county as it is shown in the media. Those who visited it came for the open space and the great sky of the coast and the countryside as well as for its heritage and cultural offer.

There is a strong perception of Essex and its people reinforced by reality TV shows and although these stereotypes exist as they do in all counties, Essex is diverse in both its people and natives of Essex are known for their ambition, hardworking and friendly personalities.

The popularity of reality shows has drawn many people to Essex, but everyone knows this side of the county. To expand and attract new and different audiences, we need to publicize all that we have to offer: picturesque villages, medieval towns, seal watching, nature reserves and vineyards.

For example, Brentwood, made famous by reality TV, is actually a leafy borough with incredible country parks, family attractions and historic homes, including Ingatestone Hall where the Petre family has resided since 1539, and Marygreen Manor, a popular hotel and afternoon tea venue which was built at 13and century.

Not just a day destination

There has always been interest in people living in Essex, perhaps more than most other destinations, so to gain awareness the Visit Essex team worked with local media partners in 2019 to recruit local ambassadors – people who have their own special stories to tell, for example sports personalities, Michelin starred chefs and scientists.

An award-winning campaign and film used these ambassadors to promote the diversity of people in Essex using tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition, giving us a way to show there’s more to Essex than people realize.

We understood that if Essex was to compete with other destinations in the holiday market, a campaign was needed to showcase the real Essex. So the task was also to change the perception of Essex as a day trip destination to the perception of a short break location, and there are a number of ways to do this:

  • Showcasing all we have to offer
  • Formulate the offer via itineraries that show people there is more than enough to do for a week’s vacation
  • Carry out creative marketing campaigns

Best Kept Secrets

The campaign kicked off in 2021 with digital marketing and runs through 2022. In March, a TV advert on Sky will be launched, aimed at people in key geographies, primarily London and the East Midlands. It targets three audiences – families, young professionals and empty nests – and shows the variety of things to do and experiences in Essex, such as fishing at Hanningfield Reservoir, feeding giraffes at Colchester Zoo and tasting wine at one of our many vineyards, with the aim of encouraging people to get away to Essex for a holiday or a weekend and create memories.

Television advertising will be supported by digital marketing activity, and press and public relations will encourage visitors to the Visit Essex website to plan their trip.

As the campaign evolves, it will not only promote the experiences on offer in Essex, but will also tell the stories related to the historic county. Essex has many hidden gems and as a place it is largely unknown.

Essex has so much to offer visitors, from cultural venue and museum of the year Firstsite in Colchester, to a ride on one of the new eco-trains on Southend Pier, the longest pier of the world, or a bite to eat at Galvin Green Man near Chelmsford, which was named Britain’s Pub of the Year last year, not to mention the driest, hottest climate and our warm welcome .

It is great that there is still interest in Essex and its people, but now is the time to let others know our best kept secrets and encourage visitors to experience a whole new Essex and continue to develop the visitor economy.

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