It was an evening of affection and excitement as VisitBritain brought the travel trade, international businesses and Commonwealth Games honchos to the chic 1 Hotel Toronto.
There is nothing like an international sports competition to get folks revved up – and when it’s the Commonwealth Games, known as the “Friendly Games” it’s a welcome chance to travel, cheer on all the athletes and visit a very special part of Britain.
Chair of VisitBritain, Dame Judith Macgregor, told the audience of some 200 that “Canada is important to us – in 2019 almost 900,000 Canadians visited the UK – spending UKL 60 million.” This massive event will, she hopes, introduce visitors to another side of Britain, while at the same time giving them the chance to enjoy the celebrations and buzz around the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: “A unique time to visit our country,” as she put it.
There was even a special guest of honour: the Games Baton, which left Buckingham Palace in October and is spending 4 days in Canada on its sojourn through the Commonwealth – 62 countries so far, with Gibraltar its next destination. A special message from the Queen, concealed in the baton, will be read at the opening of the Games, which take place JUL28 to AUG08. An estimated 5,000 athletes from 72 countries will compete in over 20 sports, from athletics to wrestling. So far, a million tickets to events have been sold.
Carl Walsh, Director of Travel Trade North America, told Open Jaw about some of the charms of Birmingham, which is in the West Midlands. “It’s really in the heart of England, just 90 minutes by train from London or Manchester. There are more canals than Venice – thanks to the early industrial development and need to transport goods – as well as a wonderful multi-cultural vibe, five Michelin-starred restaurants, Stratford-on-Avon is close and there’s nearby Cadbury World, the home of Cadbury chocolate, where you can create your own chocolate bar!” A holiday on a sleep-aboard narrow boat, touring the canals in lazy fashion, is a great option for holidaymakers, he told me.
According to Walsh, tourism is absolutely booming in the UK – and not just inbound travel, but domestic (remember there are about 54 million people in the UK, many of whom have decided since COVID to vacation at home). “Being so busy is a good challenge to have, but travel advisors should strongly counsel their clients to book and pay in advance for any timed attractions such as the Tower of London, the London Eye, National Trust properties and Royal Palaces.”
Mayor of West Midlands Andy Street is clearly a huge booster of his town and the Games. “I live in the heart of Birmingham, where the canals are genuinely lovely. They are the centre of our regeneration and focal point of civic pride.” As far as the Games go, he’s most keenly anticipating watching Women’s Cricket, the first time it’s on the slate for a Commonwealth Games.
Sam Effa, the Canadian team’s proud Chef de Mission, is a perfect example of a Games visitor from Canada. As he told the crowd: “I can’t wait to see the canals in Birmingham, Shakespeare country, Cadbury World – oh, and of course the Games!”