Fightback begins to keep £50m in tourist booking commissions from leaving the city

May 31, 2022

Bath’s independent hotels, guest houses, shops and cafes could benefit from around £50m in additional revenue if visitors booked direct rather than through major websites, according to tourist chiefs.

They are spearheading a campaign to promote the city’s independent tourism and hospitality businesses while also making sure their own websites can compete against online travel agencies, meaning they do not have to pay hefty commissions – often up to 18% – on bookings. 

Visit Somerset, the community interest company run by private sector tourism businesses across the county, has teamed up with Bath Independent Hotel Association and Bath Self Catering Association on the campaign while at the same time expanding its Stay in Bath loyalty scheme.

It is also working with the University of Bath to harness technology to help firms in the sector as well as receiving the backing of Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who leads the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), which covers Bath.

The university is researching using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning on both associations’ platforms, helping ensure locals and visitors book their stays directly rather than through tech giants.

According to Visit Somerset CEO John Turner, pictured, this is the starting point in a campaign to divert the £50m-plus that now goes, through commissions, to the big tech firms behind booking sites back into the city’s economy.  

“We are really pleased to have finally moved the relationship with Bath Independent Hotel Association and Bath Self Catering Association to the next level,” he said.

“As we move forward, it is imperative we look to the future. Striving to work with a new consumer that engages with our platforms as we advance into the realms of AI and ‘one-click’ booking. This will give our independent shops and fantastic local attractions the boost they deserve.”

Prior to the pandemic, Bath’s visitor economy was estimated to be worth around £470m a year, with nearly 1.2m people staying the area for at least one night – a third of them from overseas. There were also around 5m day trippers.

Just under a third of all visitor spending is on food and drink, while the city’s shops benefit from around a quarter. Accommodation accounts for 19%.

Visit Somerset’s Stay in Bath loyalty scheme is running in parallel with WECA’s Explore Local campaign.

Mayor Norris learnt more about the Stay in Bath scheme when he met Visit Somerset and some of the city’s tourist businesses last week.

He heard how it is boosting the city’s independent attractions through special offers for visitors – including one of its ‘jewels in the crown’, the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street – helping retain their spending in the city.

Mayor Norris said: “This is a really exciting partnership which will give local people and visitors alike the opportunity to buy local, see the best of independent Bath and cherish the diversity on offer in this great city.

“And from seeing how our former settlers liked to unwind at the Roman Baths to celebrating Bath’s most famous resident at the Jane Austen Centre, this city is jam-packed with amazing things to explore.

“This move will ensure everyone can see it all by turning that day trip into a short break.”

Pictured outside the Jane Austen Centre, from left: Paul Crossey (Jane Austen Centre), John Turner (Visit Somerset), Laurent Perge (West of England Sustainable Technologies Scale-Up Programme), Chris Budd (University of Bath), Metro Mayor Dan Norris and Alison Curran (Bath Independent Hospitality Association and Bath Self Catering Association)



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