The Order of the British Empire ( OBE) is an order of chivalry in the British and Commonwealth honours systems. It was established in 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes, in civil and military divisions. It was consequently a pleasure to meet up with a British lady heading a tourism organisation with an OBE. Deirdre Wells, OBE, is the chief executive of the trade association UKinbound, representing the interests of the UK’s inbound tourism sector. I met up with Deirdre at the World Travel Market in London after her presence on a panel discussing the World Travel Market 2014 Industry Report. It is always a pleasure to meet a women in the travel industry heading an august body. Comparatively, there are very few, although Deirdre begs to differ. “The new chief executive of Visit Britain Sally Balcombe and the British Hospitality Association chief executive Ufi Ibrahim are two female leaders,” she says. “The tourism industry is very supportive of female leadership. Those running airlines is perhaps one area we need to work on,” she adds. Deidre joined UKinbound in March this year from the British government department of culture, media and sport, where she was head of tourism. In this role she was instrumental in delivering the Great Campaign – an ambitious marketing campaign aiming to help the world discover why Britain is a great place to visit, study, work, invest and do business. She had been with the government for 20 years, holding a number of high profile positions. Deirdre was awarded the OBE in 2007 for her work heading the team which delivered the memorial services for the victims of 9 / 11, Bali, The Asian Tsunami and London 7 / 7. “It was very humbling. A lot of families would have supported the nomination,” she says. More recently Deirdre held the post of programme manager for the Olympic Legacy Board. In her new job at UKinbound she is focusing on travellers coming into the UK. “We have 300 members including tour operators, hotels, attractions, sightseeing tours and shopping centres. Our role is lobbying government and supporting the growth of inbound tourism, such as making the visa regime more friendly” she says. The organization runs a series of events like the UK stand at the World Travel Market, where there are 60 exhibitors. “We do a lot of networking events outside London too. The US, France, Germany and Spain are our bread and butter markets, but it is changing. We support members in new markets and for the Rugby World Cup ( RWC) a lot of our members deal with New Zealand and Australia. We also support World War I memorials.” New Zealand features in the top 20 target markets for UKinbound and it is a market Deirdre hopes to expand, especially with the RWC. She recognizes the importance of visiting friends and relatives ( VFR) too. “It is a very easy market to support and engage with. I think we dismiss VFR at our peril. People who live here are the best ambassadors for the country. VFR has huge potential, particularly around key events.” Deirdre, meantime, finds her role at UKinbound offers a high level of excitement. “International tourism to the UK is currently booming, contributing hugely to the country’s economic recovery. Through my work on major events such as the Millennium Dome, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Liverpool Capital of Culture and more recently, as the government’s head of tourism, I have been extremely impressed with the capacity of our industry to grow, innovate and respond to customer demand.” Deirdre is also a board member of The Tourism Society and the Tourism Alliance and a member of the Top 100 Club, Women 1st [ a network of the most influential women in hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism]. This is a woman on a mission and a role model for other aspiring tourism leaders.
UKinbound chief executive Deirdre Wells, OBE . . . “Visiting friends and relatives has huge potential, particularly around key events.”