It wasn’t so many years ago, that the tonic prescribed for tourism in Jersey was simply for local people to fall in love with their island once again.
Perhaps that is an opportunity which the virus pandemic has now presented to us, with more people opting to holiday-at-home this summer, and actually explore the world around them, with the eyes of a visitor.
But it’s not enough. It might help more tourism business to survive, but ultimately, we need to welcome the visitors back to our shores in sufficient numbers – enter Amanda Burns, the new CEO of Visit Jersey.
It’s quite a time to take the helm. We have no idea what the next year will look like, with corona virus still casting its pernicious shadow over all future planning.
So how will the island’s new tourism head cope with the considerable challenge of getting the industry back on its feet? Express began by asking her to set out her experience for the role:
Amanda Burns: I’ve twenty-five years’ experience in the travel and tourism industry, leading the marketing for a range of brands in the airline, railway and tourism sectors. I was Head of Marketing for bmi British Midland, a Marketing Sounding Board Member of the Star Alliance, consulted for BAA Airports; set up and established Tourism Ireland’s regional office for new and developing markets in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa and most recently led Great Western Railway’s Marketing and Sales team.
Pictured: Amanda Burns, new CEO of Visit Jersey.
Is there anything in particular which will help you, in this role?
Obviously my commercial, marketing and tourism experience. I’ve been fortunate to cover many territories around the world from New Zealand, China, the UAE, Europe and North America, so I have an understanding of diverse cultures and consumer expectations as well as an appreciation for different ways of working. I like to think that brings an open-minded approach to how best to operate in the environment I am working in.
Having worked in the travel industry for many years, I know what a wonderful community it is to work in; how supportive it is; and how adaptable it can be reacting to changes that happen which are often out of our direct control. I hope this will help me quickly establish myself in the role and successfully lead Visit Jersey into the next phase of its development.
I am also fortunate to be taking the helm from Keith Beecham, who achieved so much establishing a great team and vision for Visit Jersey. I’m very much looking forward to working with the team who have so much passion for their work and love of Jersey.
What first attracted you to the Jersey role - did you have any previous links to the Island?
My first links to Jersey were in the late 1990s when I worked as a Senior Product Manager at British Midland, which included responsibility for our flights to Jersey. I remember all the planning that went into setting up our summer charters to Jersey, how popular they were and how many regional airports we flew to Jersey from. It was always logistically intense leading up to the ‘on-sale’ summer dates going live and we weren’t as automated then – a lot of commercial planning was done on whiteboards!
Fast-forward twenty years and I saw the role advertised and it immediately caught my interest. Reading about the requirements of the role, seeing the potential opportunities and challenges that it offered, I had to go for it.
Jersey has so much to offer visitors and residents alike, from wonderful coastlines and the island’s natural environment, history and heritage, our food and entertainment and the cosmopolitan way of life. I was particularly impressed with the vision for Jersey’s environment and sustainability for the future, making it such a compelling role.
Pictured: Amanda has experience in the airline, railway and tourism sectors.
Clearly the industry is facing a massive issue with the pandemic - but can you set Jersey’s experience in a wider context?
This is unlike any crisis we have experienced before. Speaking and listening to the industry, it doesn’t matter if you are leading a global airline or running a small family business, whether in Jersey or New Jersey, no one has been through something like this before and there are no easy answers.
Working in the railway industry when the pandemic hit the UK, at a macro level we had to put the emergency brakes on – almost overnight there was an industry-wide, 95% drop in passenger numbers, with an unprecedented request for refunds; we had to implement a new, reduced timetable; and understand new health and safety measures which we needed to implement and communicate quickly to colleagues and customers. From a sales and marketing perspective, not only did we have to stop our communications, we had to encourage customers not to travel with us which was counter to everything we’d been trained to do. And from a personal perspective, as a manager and team leader I had the responsibility of ensuring all my team were safe and support their emotional wellbeing in such an uncertain time. On top of that, advice and understanding of the pandemic and virus itself was changing on a daily basis, which meant what we thought we knew in the morning may have changed that afternoon, so we were constantly rewriting and rerouting.
I am sure so many businesses in Jersey have shared experiences like this, so while there isn’t one answer or formula to address the crisis we face, it is critical that we communicate and listen as widely as we can, ensuring we ask the right questions and scenario plan as much as possible to help us recover as quickly and effectively as we can, when the time is right.
The world changed from when you did the interview, to starting the job. Can you explain what has changed in how you intend to approach it?
It is true that so much has changed since February, but it has for most people around the world, so wherever I was working, it would have required a rethink and reset.
Having worked in the airline industry at the time of 9/11, seen the Indian hospitality industry having to adapt to the Mumbai attacks and then joining Tourism Ireland in 2010 when the impact of the financial crisis was particularly bleak for the island of Ireland, sadly crisis management and recovery is something I have had to face along with the rest of the travel and tourism industry.
We are not through this crisis yet, but we are all learning as we go, so my approach will be to talk, to listen, to learn and think about how the landscape will change in the short, medium and long-term.
At the moment, we are seeing much shorter booking horizons, with last-minute bookings. Consumers’ hierarchy of needs are also changing with safety and reassurance being critical and the desire for ‘safety bubbles’ with less interaction and face-to-face contact driving a more remote and digital approach, as well as a desire to stay closer to home. What is interesting, and key to me, is which of these behaviours will change for good and which are temporary so that we know how we need to adapt to respond as best we can, both for our visitors and for our island.
As someone seeing the island with fresh eyes, are there any obvious ‘wins’?
Coming from the UK and living in lockdown there for four months, it really has felt like a breath of fresh air coming to Jersey. Our wide-open spaces, wonderful food and friendly people have been a tonic for the mind and soul. There is something genuinely special and invigorating about the island. The obvious win for me is communicating that to the right audiences, at the right time for the island.
Pictured: Coming to Jersey from the UK has felt like a 'breath of fresh air' for Amanda.
Connectivity is critical to the island and there has been a significant decrease in airline and ferry capacity this year, so this is obviously something I would like to see increase, and will work with the Ports of Jersey to support them on.
What can the tourism sector expect from you?
Passion and energy. Communication and collaboration.
I’ve always thrived marketing challenger brands in a competitive environment and in many ways, this is what Jersey is. The travel industry is going to be hugely active coming out of Covid-19 and we will need to punch above our weight to win our share of voice in what is going to be a very competitive market.
Having been involved with the marketing of many destinations, I know that each one has unique aspects which need to be understood, and Jersey is no different. My approach will be to think long and short term; to be creative in what we do and how we do it; and to be distinctive. How will Jersey differentiate itself from many other destinations competing for visitors? How can we identify our best prospects and encourage them to invest their discretionary spend with us?
Have there been any surprises so far?
I’m still exploring and enjoying the island through the eyes of a visitor. What has surprised me so far is how little I knew about what Jersey has to offer. What has struck me most is Jersey’s beauty and diversity and the range of experiences Jersey can offer to so many different types of visitor. We have so many stories to tell and so much to be proud of and share.
What is also noticeable is how many Jersey residents are enjoying a Jersey staycation at the moment, and seem to be loving the experience and proudly sharing their magical Jersey moments on social media. I hope this will resonate to a wider audience outside Jersey.
Pictured: Many Islanders have been enjoying a local "staycation" this summer.
What’s the vision for how you want to take VJ forward?
I met 40 tourism industry suppliers in my first three weeks in Jersey, with many more meetings to come. Their professionalism, welcome and support in such challenging times has been inspirational and as a team, I’m really keen that we work together to recover and realise our tourism potential.
As a business we need to think long and short-term. The visitor economy is fundamentally important for Jersey, both in terms of the economic benefits it provides as well as the wider impact on society, culture and our quality of life.
Right now, every visitor counts as we focus on recovering the tourism economy whilst ensuring the safety of all islanders, so I’ll be working with trade and industry to support them, where Visit Jersey can.
Thinking ahead to our future, I’m keen to understand the impact and opportunities we face in what will be a very different consumer and visitor landscape; to build on a strong brand identity and awareness of Jersey; and adopting a ‘Team Jersey’ philosophy and way of working with all stakeholders to collectively optimise the opportunities ahead of us.
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