The national visitor project manager of Mayflower 400 caught up with TravelGBI editor George Clode at WTM London to discuss plans surrounding the 2020 commemoration.
What is the Mayflower 400 project?
The year 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower ship setting sail from Plymouth to the US with more than 100 crew and passengers on board. For the first time, the Mayflower 400 project will be bringing together all the partners across England that have a direct link to this story.
We’re also working with international partners in Leiden in the Netherlands, where many of the pilgrims stayed for more than a decade, and Massachusetts, where the ship eventually landed.
The project aims to tell the early story of these pilgrims, who were fleeing religious persecution in England during the 17th century.
Much of the visitor offer today in the UK is based around the churches where the pilgrims would worship in secret, the places of their origin as well as the story of the ship and her captain and of course the ship’s journey. We are creating a visitor trail around all of those sites, as well as others, linked to the story under the Mayflower 400 umbrella.
This really is an international commemoration and our role is all about bringing inbound tourists across and showcasing the international relevance of the story and the interesting themes that still resonate today – the theme of immigration for example.
How are you collaborating with the travel trade?
We’ve created a number of suggested itineraries for groups and have been working with the travel trade to say this is what a tour could look like. We don’t sell anything or package anything ourselves, but we suggest what could be done and are helping people develop their own offer to suit their client base.
There are lots of angles to the story and this is the first time ever that we have brought all the destinations involved together to tell the joined-up story. We know businesses are doing things already, but it’s probably being done in isolation or not necessarily giving the full picture.
The Mayflower stopped at Southampton before setting heading to Plymouth and on to America, and there are some excellent guided tours we are helping to develop and monuments there as part of their Mayflower offer.
Southampton has a really fascinating history as well as a great connection for the cruise market, and incoming cruises to the city will be encouraged to make the most of the Mayflower content.
Are you able to offer advice on what the expected inbound tourists will want?
We’ve conducted market research and surveyed 5,000 Americans on what they want to do, see, and how long they wanted to stay while on a trip to England. So we have some really robust insights into the potential visitor behaviour.
That study also showed that 40% of members of family history societies and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants are very likely to visit England in 2020, and 5.5% of the general population are also very likely to visit – so the market potential is significant.
What we want to do is work with the trade to get our message across to the US via travel agents and tour operators so we can start bringing those trips in.
Of course, we are seeing some trips already – we worked with UKinbound on a Discover event in September and, while we were taking tour operators around north Nottinghamshire, we bumped into American descendants of key characters in the Mayflower story creating their own itineraries and exploring the churches.
So the descendent market presents a really significant opportunity and our research showed that those descendants want to follow in the footsteps of their pilgrim ancestors and soak up the whole Mayflower story over an eight- to 10-day tour.
Will there be a launch event?
Illuminate is an event that happens around Thanksgiving. This year, there will be seven destinations taking part offering a range of nationwide cultural activities. Boston in Lincolnshire will be illuminating ‘The Stump’, otherwise known as St Botolph’s Church, the largest parish church in England, and there will be parades and church services across the country.
Illuminates in November 2019 will be the official cultural launch of the anniversary programme. All 11 destinations across England, America and Leiden will be taking part. That will be the opening ceremony. We then have the 2020 12-month programme with something happening every month. Some are cultural, some are community-led, some are conferences and lectures. The actual anniversary date is September 16, 2020, and Plymouth has a two-week programme of international events.
How will you keep up momentum until then?
The events programme will continue to grow. There will also be an arts programme as part of the commemoration supported by Arts Council England, with international artists commissioned to look at site-specific work.
There are some very exciting technical projects under way which will evolve. The University of Birmingham is working on a virtual reality ship which will allow children on both sides of the Atlantic to communicate and meet each other on the ship, gaining a real insight into what life would have been like aboard the Mayflower.
There’s also an autonomous ship that Plymouth University is working on, which is planned to make the same Atlantic voyage as the Mayflower in 2020, which will be the first ship to make the crossing without anyone on board.
There’s also capital investment going on with a five-star boutique hotel opening in Southampton, and a luxury hotel and large historic centre opening in Plymouth.
Pictured from left: Amanda Lumley, executive director, Destination Plymouth; Alison Bartlett, Destination Plymouth; Emma Tatlow, national visitor project manager, Mayflower 400.