LONDON — People generally agree that the weather is not a selling point for tourism in Britain. Sport is. The summer calendar here highlights the dates of Ascot racing, Wimbledon tennis, cricket at Lord’s, golf, rowing, athletics. These popular events draw crowds of supporters growing ever more enthusiastic in the buildup to the Sydney Olympic Games.
David A. Quarmby visited Japan in April. As chairman of the British Tourist Authority, he said then that “the cultural landscape of Britain was being transformed faster and more profoundly than at any time in the history of BTA.” He suggested that the transformation gave overseas visitors “a whole lot of new reasons to visit Britain. It’s the moment for our visitors to discover a new Britain, and in it a renaissance of arts, culture, environment and public architecture. Now is the time.”
Quarmby has had a career that covered a range of dedications before he came to the leadership of British tourism. Native to Yorkshire, he had the fortune to go to school in Shrewsbury, an alluring, historic market town set in a horseshoe bend of the River Severn in central England. He went on to King’s College, Cambridge, and has his Ph.D. degree from Leeds University.
“I taught at Leeds University for three years. It seemed to be a good thing at the time,” he said. “I did some transport research, and found my interest was really in transport policy. In 1966 I accepted an invitation to join the Ministry of Transport.” For four years then he served as economic adviser to the ministry.
He was headhunted by London Transport, where he moved into a number of appointments concerned with some of London’s most grievous daily problems of getting people around.
Quarmby initiated and instituted in London the system of zone travel cards, designed to ease and speed up the movements of vast crowds of people. In Japan he is very impressed with the facilities and functioning of public transport. He said, “The amazing and very extensive rail system is a strength of Japan.”
At London Transport, Quarmby spent nine years on the board, with six of them as managing director of London buses. For a dozen years then he accepted a change of pace and served as a board director of Sainsbury’s, Britain’s old-established chain of provisions stores.
Until a year ago he was chairman of the English Tourist Board. Now he has multiple commitments: to the South London Economic Development Alliance; as ministerial adviser on transport for London; to the New Millennium Experience Co., which built and operates the Millennium Dome at Greenwich; as chairman of the Docklands Light Railway; and as chairman of the British Tourist Authority.
Quarmby rejoices in the increasing numbers of independent Japanese travelers visiting Britain. “Many of them travel beyond London, that is the destination for half of all overseas visitors,” he said. “It has always been our policy to promote travel beyond London. The image of Britain as creative, lively and regenerated, as well as steeped in history and tradition, underpins our long-standing theme of old meets new. I think nowhere does old meet new with more energy and challenge than in e-commerce and the IT revolution. I’m delighted to announce that BTA Japan has launched a Virtual Britain Travel Club, aiming to supply hot tips and links for real travel. You click on the BTA’s Web site and become a member of the Virtual Club.”
Quarmby’s message includes mention of several new projects in Britain that celebrate the natural world. He said: “We have the Eden Project in Cornwall, the world’s biggest glasshouse with flora and fauna from all over the world in a subtropical environment; the Millennium Seed Bank in Sussex to hold 25,000 rare species; a new wildflower center outside Liverpool; and a national cycle network largely independent of the main roads, using former railway rights of way. ‘Green Britain’ is a theme of the millennium, one that’s gaining increasing interest throughout Asia, particularly in Japan.”
And sport. “We are very sports focused. Sport is a specific niche for us, and Britain has a very special place in the world of sports,” Quarmby said.