Apparently my opposite number in Italy, Tourism Minister Michela Vittoria Brambilla, is furious at a new ‘What Country’* app which sums up Italy as ‘pizza, the Mafia and scooters’, and wants it removed from the Apple online store.
Ms Brambilla, a former beauty queen (and, by all accounts, a particular favourite of President Berlusconi, for some reason) believes that her country’s heritage, culture and general stylishness are rather more important. And so they are, of course; but let’s handle these things lightly and keep a sense of proportion. A nation at peace with itself should rather enjoy this sort of nonsense and I say this, of course, in the knowledge that life in England is characterised on the same app as ‘tea, a weird sense of humour, and rain’. It doesn’t tell the whole story, obviously, but does take you a fair way along the road.
In fact, insight into the way that others see us can be very useful and the person, politician or businessman who ignores it may well miss a trick at a later stage or, at the very least, fail to see the whole picture as they go about their business. That’s why I decided to spend the best part of a day this week playing the role of a ‘mystery shopper’ and joining a tourist coach trip incognito, in order to see for myself what the visitor experience is like. Inevitably it was not quite as full-on an encounter as that experienced by those captains of industry who take part in the brilliant ‘Back to the Floor’ programme on BBC TV, but interesting nonetheless. The only bits of advice I got in advance from my press office, by the way, were ‘Don’t wear a suit’ and ‘If anyone recognises you, don’t lie about who you are’, both of which I like to think I managed well enough. I was accompanied, incidentally, by a reporter who was briefed to pretend to be ‘Mrs Penrose.’ So, all other things being equal, an account of the experience will appear in a newspaper in the next few weeks. I may say a bit more about how it all went, once we’ve had a chance to see what the missus (as it were) has written.
Same suit, different day
All of which leaves us with nothing more to do than pick a photograph to go with these words. A picture of my Italian counterpart – Michela Vittoria Brambilla – is tempting, of course, but possibly not quite the thing for a column that does its best to talk about the UK scene. So I’ve chosen instead a shot of me at a VisitEngland event from last week: a gathering of Partners for England, a group of delegates from tourism organisations from around the country. The message, not for the first time, was the importance of giving the customer what they want and encouraging everyone in the sector to learn from the best. If it ain’t broke, don’t be complacent, I suppose.
Sharp-eyed readers may also pick up on the real reason I’ve chosen this picture, of course. Yes, both James Berresford and I are wearing exactly the same outfits we had on the last time I went to a VisitEngland event. A quick compare and contrast with the snap from my last blog makes the point all too vividly, I fear (as well as sneakily boosting our website strike rate). So why am I committing the fashion faux-pas of wearing the same outfit twice? Think of it as an efficiency saving, if you like, and anyway, the navy suit, white shirt and blue paisley tie combo is rather fetching, don’t you think? Thankfully, though, Penny Cobham had the foresight to pick something different.
*And, yes, that is ‘what country’, not ‘what country?’ or even ‘which country?’, by the way.