Barbara Jamison-Woods outlines her strategy for CityDNA and London Conventions

10th May, 2024
Photo credit: © Reid
Barbara Jamison-Woods, a highly skilled professional with over 25 years of experience in global tourism and destination promotion, was elected as the new President of the City Destinations Alliance (CityDNA) during its recent International Conference and General Assembly in Bologna on April 24, 2024.

In this exclusive interview, HQ asks Jamison-Woods to share with our readers her vision for her upcoming three-year term as President and discusses the key priorities for CityDNA and London as the current Head of Europe for London & Partners. She is leveraging London's unique position post-Brexit to attract MICE activity, focusing on green travel initiatives and improving connectivity across the city. She is committed to transforming London into a sustainable destination, in line with her strategic objectives at CityDNA to effectively promote wider European destinations. She stresses the importance of increasing the Alliance's impact by promoting regenerative tourism across Europe, ensuring that travel experiences are enriching and sustainable for both visitors and local communities.

Barbara Jamison-Woods, new President of the City Destinations Alliance (CityDNA)

Congratulations on your appointment as President of CityDNA! Could you share with us your key goals for the first few months in office? 

Our members do excellent work for their destinations, so my focus in the initial months is to highlight their outstanding efforts – particularly the contributions of our Insights Team, which plays a crucial role for many destinations. After our recent meeting in Brussels with EU officials, I'll also be continuing talks with key government representatives and policymakers. We'll discuss how to maintain support for our industry, ensuring its sustainability and success.

Beyond the immediate future, what long-term strategies do you have in mind to increase CityDNA's influence and success in promoting European destinations as a top choice for business events and incentives? 

In the world of tourism, the focus is shifting towards a concept that's beneficial for both travellers and destinations: regenerative tourism. Imagine this: every person who visits Europe not only enjoys their trip but is inspired to return with a different hat on. For instance, a tourist exploring Amsterdam might come back one day as a business delegate, or vice versa. To make this happen, our strategies need to prioritise creating strong tourism experiences that benefit everyone involved – from local residents to businesses. It's about crafting experiences that not only attract visitors but also support the communities they visit. In simple terms, regenerative tourism is about more than just having a good time, it's about building lasting connections between travellers and the places they visit. It's a way of tourism where everyone can benefit – from the curious traveller to the local business owner.

Every leading role comes with its own set of challenges. What do you foresee as the main roadblocks during your term, and how do you plan to overcome them to ensure the successful promotion of European destinations? 

One big challenge we're facing is that destination management organisations are getting less budget to work with. We want to reassure all our members that they can still be creative and flexible even with tighter budgets. Look at what Visit Iceland did in 2021 with their Icelandverse project – it got over two million views on YouTube alone. It's a great example of thinking fast and thinking differently to get attention for a destination.

Now, a look at Barbara's dual role at London & Partners and her insights into the promotion of sustainable practices in the MICE sector.

Post-Brexit, London faces unique challenges and opportunities in the MICE sector. Could you elaborate on those, particularly in terms of VAT, visa concerns and the Convention Bureau's support for associations and organisers? 

We understand that Brexit has left many uncertain about navigating London. That's why we teamed up with Visit Britain to create a toolkit that makes visiting and doing business here easier. It includes guides on getting around the city, plus info on taxes and visas. Despite Brexit, London is still a top destination for businesses and tourists. It leads Europe in tech and was named TripAdvisor's top spot for 2024. So, while Brexit is a factor, London remains a vibrant hub for innovation and adventure.

London's connectivity, notably with cities like Paris and Brussels via Eurostar, is a key aspect of its appeal. How is this being used to promote green travel and attract more meetings and visitors from the continent? 

We are committed to contributing towards London’s sustainable future. We stand behind the Mayor's ambitious plans to make our city carbon and pollution-free by 2030 and waste-free by 2050. We're also actively involved in global efforts like the Glasgow Declaration, which aims to speed up climate action in tourism worldwide. This means we're all about promoting eco-friendly choices in the MICE industry. Creating ‘business extenders’ is one example of this in action. By promoting London as a value destination, we’re able to showcase how visitors can make the most of their one trip. Creating itineraries and connecting them to key stakeholders during their stay in the capital. And in the past, we've even taken delegates to other major events on the continent via the Eurostar. 

Can you give us an update on key developments at iconic venues like ExCeL London or innovation hubs like Olympia London? 

We're excited about the upcoming developments at ExCeL London. With a £220 million investment, it’s on track to become Europe's largest conference and exhibition centre when it opens in October. This means more space and better facilities for hosting events, making it a significant moment for the venue. Similarly, Olympia London, a historic site with a 140-year legacy, is undergoing a massive £1.3 billion regeneration. When it reopens in 2025, it will have modern conference facilities, a new theatre, and a music arena, as well as two new hotels. This revitalisation is not only preserving the venue's heritage but also bringing new energy to the area. Both venues are also making efforts to be environmentally friendly. They're committed to reducing their impact on the environment, ensuring that the events they host are sustainable. It's great to see such important landmarks taking steps towards a greener future. 

And finally, given your dual role, how will you align your strategies at CityDNA and London & Partners to promote London and other European destinations to the MICE industry? 

London is all about working together. During my time at London & Partners, I've had the privilege of working with major European cities like Copenhagen and Valencia. Together, we've shared knowledge and created opportunities for growth. Now, with CityDNA, I'm excited to expand this collaboration even further. CityDNA will help us connect visitors with the best experiences, whether they're in London or elsewhere in Europe. It's all about working together to make cities better for everyone. 


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