I started working at the Houses of Parliament in October last year. Coming from a tourism marketing background, my remit was to promote the Houses of Parliament as an interesting and engaging place to visit, which would appeal to a wide variety of domestic and international audiences.
For many people closely involved with the workings of Parliament, August is a relatively quiet month with both Houses enjoying the summer recess. There’s perhaps even time for some quiet reflection after all the cut and thrust of politics.
For me though, August is effectively the culmination of my working year. August is the month when we open our doors six days a week and welcome visitors from all over the world. For a short while the Houses of Parliament, arguably, becomes a full time visitor attraction.
Most of our August visitors will have pre-booked their tickets for the guided tours through the Lords and the Commons, which are led by highly knowledgeable ‘Blue Badge’ guides. Even though I’ve now been on quite a few of these tours, I still manage to pick up a few new anecdotes which I store away for future use.
Recently the Visitor Services team, and everyone else who contributes to the tours, received some fantastic recognition for our work. The Houses of Parliament was voted ‘Best Attraction for Groups: Short Visits’ at the 2013 Group Travel Awards, (re-claiming the title we won in 2011) and named by TripAdvisor as a 2013 Travellers’ Choice winner. For me, these awards undoubtedly reflect the quality of visitor experience on offer.
This summer, in conjunction with the Houses of Commons banqueting team, we launched ‘Afternoon Tea in the Pugin Room’. The afternoon teas have proved to be incredibly popular and we hope to continue them into the autumn and winter. Visitors booked in for tea after their tours are fairly easy to spot – they tend to be more smartly dressed than the other visitors (even though there’s no dress code).
Despite the summer recess, we still have a responsibility to maintain free access to Parliament for UK residents. Members’ tours, which can be arranged through a local MP or a Peer, continue throughout the month.
August will also see me planning ahead for the next few months. In September Parliament will again be taking part in the Open House weekend and there’s part two of our Summer Opening period which coincides with the party conference season. Then in November we will be exhibiting at one of the world’s biggest travel shows, World Travel Market. This is a great chance to meet tourism professionals from all over the globe, and encourage them to bring international visitors to the Houses of Parliament.