Harry Potter will lead the charge, accompanied by an author who still inspires devotion from her fans two centuries after her death, and the Baker Street detective who has enjoyed a renaissance on both the small and big screens.
As Brexit Britain prepares to promote itself to the world, the government is pushing a global “GREAT” Britain campaign to showcase what the nation has to offer visitors. A central theme will be the diversity of British tourism as Wales promotes a Year of Legends, which will pay tribute to the country’s epic myths, and Scotland celebrates a Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
England will celebrate a Year of Literary Heroes with notable milestones including the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen and the 125th anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes collection. Other major anniversaries that it is hoped will put Britain on the world’s cultural map include the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and the 150th anniversary of Arnold Bennett’s birth in Stoke-on-Trent.
Hampshire, where Austen spent most of her life, is promoting a series of events across the year, while Bath, which she visited frequently, is hosting its annual week-long festival celebrating her life. Austen-fever is likely to be matched by Pottermania when a new exhibition at the British Library, dedicated to the magic of Harry Potter, will be the first of its kind to celebrate a single series of books by a living author. The exhibition will include previously unseen material from author JK Rowling and the book’s publisher Bloomsbury, as well as other magic-related titles from the British Library’s own collection.
To mark the 125th anniversary since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, fans are being encouraged to visit locations in London associated with the detective, and in Bristol where the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch is filmed.
The use of literary anniversaries to promote Britain abroad is proving a tried and tested method for tourism agencies. Last year, major anniversaries associated with Shakespeare, Beatrix Potter, Charlotte Brontë and Roald Dahl were used to lure foreign tourists through online marketing campaigns. the national tourism agency, claims that for every £1 the government invests in marketing the UK abroad, an overseas visitor will spend £23 in Britain.
Other key events this year include Hull becoming the UK’s City of Culture. Martin Green, CEO and director of Hull 2017, said it would be an opportunity to showcase the city to the world. “The ambition for Hull 2017 has been to create a year-long programme that speaks of the city, its people, their creativity and energy,” he pledged.
On the sporting front, London will host the 2017 World Athletics Championships and World Para Athletics Championships, while the ICC Champions Trophy will be held in Cardiff, London and Birmingham. The ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup final will be held at Lord’s, while the Women’s Rugby World Cup will be held in Belfast. This year will also see celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the Premier League.
Forecasts from VisitBritain suggest 2017 will be a record year for inbound tourism as the weak pound encourages more people from overseas to holiday in the UK. Spending by overseas visitors is predicted to reach £24.1bn, an 8% increase on 2016, which is expected to top out at £22.3bn when official figures are published. The number of overseas visits is expected to rise to 38.1 million, up 4% on 2016, which is likely to see about 36.7 million visits by year end. This compares with predictions from an independent consultancy, Tourism Economics, which is forecasting a 6.7% increase in visits to the UK and a 5.8% increase in spending.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the value of the pound – which remains down more than 10% against the euro since the referendum – resulted in an upsurge in visitors last summer. Flight bookings data suggests that arrivals to the UK for November, December and early 2017 are also likely to be up year-on-year.