It might not top the itineraries of most foreign travellers to UK shores, but Solihull is planning on cashing in on an anticipated tourism boom in a busy year for Britain as the London 2012 Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee loom large on the horizon.
And the borough just south of Birmingham – famed for its high house prices and leafy suburbs – has US travellers firmly in its sights as it bids to make the most of everything from its shopping facilities to its relative proximity to the capital.
A new marketing campaign by the Solihull Business Improvement District (BID) is also touting the town’s credentials in terms of attractions within easy reach like Stratford-upon-Avon.
‘Discover Solihull – gateway to a great getaway’ aims to raise the profile of the borough both nationally and internationally and a BID team has already attended two major international travel shows as part of the drive to get the message across.
Solihull BID has also hosted a visit by a delegation of US trade travel writers and bosses and representatives of American travel companies who were keen to discover more about what the borough has to offer.
Shirley Sturzaker, director of Solihull BID, said ‘Discover Solihull’ was the latest in a series of marketing campaigns to draw more visitors to Solihull and the town centre in particular but stressed this year did present a unique opportunity in targeting overseas tourists.
“Every year we run campaigns, some local, some regional and some national,” she said.
“We saw a campaign opportunity to attract people who are visiting from overseas for the Olympics and the Jubilee and we thought we can’t see that opportunity go past.
“Essentially we’re trying to get people here and use it as a base. We’ve got a wonderful offer with Stratford-upon-Avon on our doorstep, Birmingham next door and it’s just an hour and 20 minutes to London.”
But Ms Sturzaker also believes Solihull has plenty to offer in its own right and dismissed the idea it has historically lived in Birmingham’s shadows.
“I feel passionate about Solihull and think it’s a great place and a great destination for shopping, food and drink and commerce,” she added. “It has got fantastic shops, we have very loyal and affluent customers and though we can’t get complacent I think we are very different.”
Acknowledging Birmingham’s string of accolades as a place to visit in recent months – with even the New York Times singing its praises – Ms Sturzaker said Solihull BID worked closely with Marketing Birmingham on joint tourism initiatives.
“One of the things we have had to recognise is that overseas visitors are aware of certain locations such as London, Birmingham and Manchester and we have to work with our partners to make sure Solihull is fairly represented,” she said.
“We are working in partnership with Marketing Birmingham and are also working with Birmingham Airport and airlines looking at shopping weekends.”
As part of a drive to up its game in the tourism trade the town is also hosting its first Jazz & Blues Festival to coincide with the Jubilee Weekend.
The event will see it team up with promoters Big Bear, organisers of the Birmingham International Jazz Festival, and there will also be an entertainment programme run in partnership with Solihull Council.
It is hoped some other local attractions and amenities will also prove a draw – Solihull has long been known as the home of arguably the world’s best-known automotive brand Land Rover and two of the region’s biggest businesses Birmingham Airport and the NEC are actually located in Solihull.
Indeed, one former deputy chief executive of Solihull Council was famously known to refer to the airport as “Solihull International Airport” when greeting dignitaries there.
“We had brilliant feedback,” Ms Sturzaker added. “The American visitors were really interested in the fact we have got Jaguar Land Rover here and the airport on the doorstep.
"They are looking at coming out of London to a location they can travel to really easily. One of the travel representatives said he was looking at taking people out of London to somewhere else but they want a really good base so they can still travel to London. Overseas visitors realise London is going to be swamped and expensive.
“Connectivity and links to London are superb but we have also got a great offering here in the town centre, with designer shops, great high street brands and low void rates.
“It is a very compelling offer in terms of where we are and what is around us.
“This is a great opportunity for us, we are breaking ground that hasn’t been done in Solihull before. Previously nothing was there to promote Solihull, we have put something really creative together to do just that.”