Positive, creative, brave but impatient!

Amanda Burns

Chief Executive Officer, Visit Jersey

You attended De Montfort University, Leicester to study a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and gained a First Class Honours. What guided your choice of degree?

Having been brought up and educated in Bahrain, the original plan was to read Arabic and Islamic Studies, but I decided to take a year out to get used to living in the UK again.  I found a job writing copy for a small tour operator in my village and at that point I was bitten by the marketing bug and took the somewhat unconventional choice of giving up my place at Durham and staying local and learning at Leicester Polytechnic instead. 

You landed your first senior role, as Head of Marketing at BMI (British Midland Inter-national). Could you tell us about your time at BMI and how the devastation of 9/11 affected the tourism industry at this time?

It was a very special time working for an airline that was a challenger brand with big ambitions during a significant period of change for the organisation and the airline industry.  

I initially joined as a Senior Product Manager with responsibility for routes operating from Heathrow and other English bases and my career progressed and developed to become Head of Marketing.  

During this time, we launched long-haul services to Washington, Chicago, Mumbai and the Caribbean, joined the Star Alliance and led the way with the digital sales revolution and shifting channel of sale to direct web bookings.  9/11 was an incredibly challenging time.  

We had just rebranded to bmi and started operating a long-haul fleet and the impact on the business and global tourism industry was immense.   Working in the travel industry, adaptability and resilience is built into our way of working and whilst it took on average 3 years to recover, out of adversity came opportunity, and we learned from the challenge and built opportunities for the future.

You took a slightly different turn in 2006 and became Head of Marketing Wellness at Bupa. Why the change in direction and how did you make your lasting mark on Bupa?

I was at that point in my career where I wanted to test my marketing capabilities in a different industry and I was inspired by Bupa’s service-oriented ethos, different businesses and the size of the organisation.  

During my time there I led the strategic review of their wellbeing products and services, relaunching and repositioning their Wellness portfolio.  After three years, I was able to satisfy myself that my skills were transferable but learned that travel was where my heart and motivation lay.

I am very confident in the outlook for Jersey’s tourism industry. There are many key risks and challenges that we continue to face but with its natural assets, location, culture, heritage, people and so much more, Jersey is well placed to re-emerge as a leading tourism destination.

Your first foray into tourism came in 2010, when you became General Manager at Tourism Ireland, taking on management of the Asian markets as Ireland was going through their financial crisis. Could you tell us about this role and the responsibilities you had?

This was another exciting career move to set-up and establish Tourism Ireland’s emerging markets regional hub and office covering Asia-Pacific, the Middle East & Africa.  Tourism Ireland had a very well-established presence in Great Britain, North America and Europe but very little awareness and visitor numbers coming from China, India and the Gulf.  

My role was to manage teams across APMEA to drive international marketing strategy to grow visitor numbers and revenue to the island of Ireland through integrated online and offline activities and strategic development of the region through B2C and B2B activities.  

A key focus was to develop commercial partnerships, public diplomacy and partner engagement resulting in enhanced visa access (visa waiver programme) and increased airline capacity and routes to Ireland.  I am particularly proud of the development of the Chinese market which grew three-fold during this time.

You’ve also worked for one of the largest train companies in the UK. Could you explain the process in developing and launching the award-winning integrated brand campaign (GWR Adventures with the Famous Five) in a very competitive and volatile market?

In 2015, GWR rebranded and was undergoing a modernisation programme of epic proportions with £7.5bn investment in the railway – the biggest of its kind since Brunel - allowing GWR to offer more trains, more seats and shorter and more frequent journeys. 

However, we had to encourage the Great British public to give up the convenience of their cars to travel by train, against the constant drip of negative media stories around ticket prices and delays.  We also had to produce strong ROIs as well as increase brand awareness and improve brand perception.    To do this, we had to accelerate business growth through brand fame.

We needed more than purely rational advertising.  We needed a creative strategy and campaign that reignited people’s passion for rail travel by reminding them that GWR was the gateway to all sorts of adventures across their network of 270 destinations as well as reminding them of the key benefits of rail travel – faster journey times and the convenience of rail travel.   

The Famous Five campaign was developed to change the way people FEEL about rail travel.   We wanted to tap into a number of strong emotions working in GWR’s favour – nostalgia for GWR (everything from the racing-green paint to the art deco logo and affectionately known as ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’) and excitement for rail travel (trains have always been emotionally present in culture – in songs, films, toy train sets).  Our research was clear that the moment you take your seat on a train was when the feeling of adventure begins.

Few characters epitomise the spirit of adventure more than The Famous Five.    Enid Blyton’s characters are quintessentially British and some of the most loved children’s books for children and adults alike.  The Famous Five have an uncanny knack of finding adventures wherever they travel, so they were the perfect crew to discover a world of adventures on the GWR network.  We worked with two outstanding directors on the TV campaigns.  Pete Candeland - famed for his Gorillaz music videos and emotive BBC trailers and then Michael Gracey - best known for directing ‘The Greatest Showman’, both helping our advertising to get famous quickly, stand out from the competition and strike a chord with customers.

Why did you decide to take the CEO role at Visit Jersey?

What appealed to me about the role was the ambition of the business.  Visit Jersey is a pretty young organisation, established in 2014, and yet it was clear there were some very ambitious targets for growth and a clear vision for how to achieve them.  I’ve always enjoyed working for smaller or challenger brands that are able to punch above their weight and it was clear that Visit Jersey fit into that category.

Our strategy is to focus on the key drivers of growth, building back a stronger, more sustainable and profitable visitor economy that supports the Government’s tourism strategy.

When you accepted the role at Visit Jersey in January 2020, the Island had just experienced a record year, with its highest number of holiday-makers since 2001. Then came the pandemic. Do you feel the Jersey travel industry will recover? And what tactics will you use?

I accepted the role one month before covid struck, so working out my 6 months’ notice period, not knowing how the pandemic would play out was pretty daunting! 

However, I am very confident in the outlook for Jersey’s tourism industry.  There are many key risks and challenges that we continue to face but with its natural assets, location, culture, heritage, people and so much more, Jersey is well placed to re-emerge as a leading tourism destination.  I don’t mean that from a purely volume perspective, but through innovation, being customer focussed and with an island-wide collaboration and ‘can-do’ approach, we really can realise the tourism opportunity.  The benefits of tourism for Jersey are far-reaching and improve the quality of life for islanders and visitors so it is critical that we rebuild with that in mind. 

Our strategy is to focus on the key drivers of growth, building back a stronger, more sustainable and profitable visitor economy that supports the Government’s tourism strategy.

Visit Jersey will focus on our core purpose of promoting tourism to and within Jersey to our target customers.  There is an opportunity to reach and promote the island as a visitor destination to a significant market of new and repeat travellers to the island.  We undertook research in 2021 which has identified a market size of over 25 million potential visitors, who find Jersey appealing as a destination.

We’ve got an amazing team, who are passionate about Jersey and genuinely care about our visitor economy.  Our activity will be supported by four key pillars to drive our plans - consumer marketing, connectivity & trade marketing, industry & events marketing and research & insight.

Have you been involved with the IoD and other associations since moving to the Island?

I am amazed by the number of associations in Jersey and their drive and influence in the island, which substantiates the influence Jersey has globally.  

I’ve been very grateful to receive invitations to a number of outstanding IoD events over the past year, which has broadened my mind and helped me to understand Jersey much better.  Connections and building networks are critical and to quote Mrs Moneypenny “You Can’t Do It Alone” and the IoD and other Jersey associations have been so valuable in helping me to establish myself.

What three words would best describe you?

Positive. Creative. Brave.

If I could have a fourth word it would be ‘impatient’!

Photographs courtesy of Max Burnett