The Great West Way - exploring England between London and Bristol
PUBLISHED: 09:12 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:12 13 February 2020
Sarah Rodi caught up with Director David Andrews on the anniversary of the Great West Way
You've probably all heard of Route 66 in the US, The Legendary Pacific Coast Touring Route or the Great Southern Touring Route in Australia, maybe even Germany's Romantic Road, but did you know England has its very own touring route?
The Great West Way® is a multi-modal touring route from London to Bristol, encompassing 500 miles of navigable routes along the Thames, Kennet & Avon Canal, Great Western Railway, and numerous walking and cycling trails.
Director of the Great West Way, David Andrews, has spent his career in tourism destination marketing. He worked for Visit Britain for 15 years in London and Central America before moving to Visit Wiltshire in 2011.
"The Great West Way has been a fantastic opportunity," he says. "The idea came out of a brainstorm about how we could market North Wiltshire better. It started out as a PR campaign for a driving trail, designed to bring more tourism to the region. Businesses were reporting that although tourists would visit, they wouldn't stay long, so we did some research into what people were looking for, what would encourage them to come out of London and what would entice them to stay longer.
"We looked at the Wild Atlantic Way and how that had been marketed. We wanted to come up with a name that was evocative of escape and adventure, with authenticity and provenance behind it, but that gave us the flexibility to pull a lot of places into it. We decided to open up a corridor that could be explored by bike, road, bus, rail, canal or on foot," says David.
"At the same time, the national tourist board, VisitEngland, was looking to fund a new tourism product that would bring more visitors to the area. The timing was fantastic. I put in a bid for funding and it was accepted.
"We were given initial money by the UK Government's Discover England Fund, administered by VisitEngland. This funding was to test if our touring route was a good idea, and it turns out, it was! It's since grown organically."
David says they wanted to get lots of towns and tourist attractions on board. "Everyone loved the idea and were keen to use our branding. The town of Hungerford was involved from the start, as well as Parkway and the Great Western Railway," he says.
The Great West Way is a luxury product. Visitors can create their own itinerary by visiting GreatWestWay.co.uk, which offers an interactive map, insider tips, an events calendar and a planning tool to generate bespoke tours.
"72 tour operators and local businesses are now working together to offer new bookable itineraries that combine iconic visitor attractions with quintessential English countryside, thriving market towns and chocolate box villages, plus a plethora of pubs, tearooms, breweries, vineyards and Michelin-starred restaurants. These itineraries will win new business and market share for the region, presenting a clear, compelling proposition to encourage visitors to travel west, to stay longer and to delve deeper."
David admits he has learned a lot about England through his work. "I'm an enthusiastic cyclist and I haven't managed to finish the whole route yet, but I've made lots of discoveries. There's always something new to see and do."
The Great West Way has just celebrated its first official anniversary, which not only coincided with the Great West Way Marketplace, but also an industry award win. The Great West Way was awarded Launch Campaign of the Year at the Travolution Awards, Travel Weekly's sister title, which covers the travel technology sector.
England's Great West Way Travel Trade Marketplace was held in Windsor, where more than 100 travel industry representatives from across the touring route met with international and domestic travel trade buyers, resulting in over 1,000 meetings in one day.
During their stay they attended a three-course Welcome Dinner at a 14th Century Chapel on the Beaumont Estate, an exclusive VIP tour of Windsor Castle, as well at the Great West Way Marketplace event, which was held at the Castle Hotel.
"Windsor is such an impressive place; and the Chapel at Beaumont Estate is beautiful," says David. "Great West Way familiarisation trips for international buyers also took place and they visited places across the route, such as the Thames Lido in Reading, Marlborough College in Wiltshire, Bristol's new attraction The Wave, West Berkshire Brewery in Yattendon, Dyrham Park in South Gloucestershire and the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames.
"My goal for 2020 is to keep the momentum going. I've been invited to bid for more funding, and I'd like to create a 'passport' that people can use along the Great West Way. I'd also like to increase our ambassadors and welcome new tourists and visitors to this beautiful part of the world. Ultimately, I want the Great West Way to become as well-known as Route 66."
Visit GreatWestWay.co.uk and if you're a business that would like to become a Great West Way Ambassador, visit greatwestway.co.uk/ambassador-network