How Americans see us?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Downton Abbey is everywhere

The Downton Abbey effect is still strong in the United States – or at least in New York. There is advertising over some of the subway (underground train) entrances and this one, I snapped near Madison Square Garden.

Is this how Americans still see us – a mixture of below and above stairs – or does heritage just make good television? If you talk to our tourist offices there, then the heritage appeal is still strong and perhaps we have reinforced that by the jubilee celebrations last year. We are still known for castles, monarchy, culture and our past. It was pointed out by an American to Karen Clarkson, the head of Visit Britain in North America that the UK would spend a lot of time in the headlines this year just because of the Kate and William baby story. After the jubilee and the Olympics last year (she estimates that was worth US$664 million in publicity value) you got the impression that other countries were peeved and slightly aggrieved that there would probably be more coverage devoted to the UK than might be given to their countries.


The New York Times Travel Show was on last weekend, so I took the opportunity of asking visitors to it how they imagined the UK. This show, celebrating it’s 10th anniversary, is one of the two largest in the US and attracts some 25,000 people over the two-and-a-half days it is open. Unfortunately Visit Britain has no stand – like last year – so it wasn’t easy just to find people who were interested in the UK.

The show opens; the rush begins

From those I spoke to there was nothing but praise for the Jubilee and the Olympics with particular attention being placed on the Thames pageant and – in terms of the Olympics – of the pink and purple dressed helpers. But were they going to visit the UK? Most seemed to think that Italy would be their first choice but touring around the UK was something they planned to do at some stage in their lives.

But had all this US$664 million press coverage changed the way they looked at the UK?  They still see us as friends because of our combined past links. Some saw us as more friendly than they expected, but most just referred to the things they thought we do better than any other country; pageantry, heritage and history. All that money not spent, all that coverage and we still are seen as much the same!


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