Tea for eighty two – Downton Abbey goes to Atlanta


Tea for eighty two – Downton Abbey goes to Atlanta

Conversations with a number of our museums and museum supply companies prompted me to look at how UKTI could help our museum sector better engage with the opportunities afforded by the US market. The 2015 American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Conference in Atlanta in April 2015 looked like an obvious vehicle…

I’d had a couple of false starts with the AAM in previous years and in a cowardly but pragmatic way asked Audrey O’Connell (ex-Natural History Museum and now working as a consultant out of Seattle) to be the go-between. Word came back that the AAM was keen to have UKTI and the Brits at the show but in a way that was not overtly commercial. How best to do this?

Never one to spurn a cliché, I thought “let’s have a traditional British High Tea in Atlanta”. So we did. Hats off to the Ritz-Carlton – a venue favoured by the AAM – for setting up a really authentic afternoon reception in a wood-panelled setting. The AAM produced forty of their museum professionals and we had a similar number of Brits. Though our total was swelled by two holiday-makers from Derby who thought we were holding a beer-tasting session (thanks to Team UKTI USA dressing the function room entrance with a GREAT poster featuring cask ales). Conversations were held, cards exchanged, goodwill and contact generated.

Thanks are due to Jane Griffin at the hotel, Dean Phelus from the AAM, Audrey plus Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London, who all helped make this a success. A tip of the hat, also, to the concierge at the Westin across the street who directed one of the delegates as follows: “you go out of the hotel, turn right, go past the shouting woman with the shopping cart and cross the street next to the two beggars”. It’s fair to say that there’s not much post-Olympic glow to downtown Atlanta and there does seem to be a large number of disorientated folk wandering the streets. No, not the local UKTI team.

Incredibly, the Atlanta event is not a one-off experiment, but part of a carefully-assembled plan of strategic engagement with the AAM (I’ve been writing annual work objectives for years). I’ll be meeting some senior AAM people in London later this month and I’ll be inviting them to speak at the annual UKTI international session at the Museums Association Conference in Birmingham, That’s Birmingham West Midlands. The plan is to create a strong UK presence at the AAM in Washington DC in 2016, featuring an on-site business lounge for visiting UK delegates and some networking events around the Conference. In the meantime I’ll be working with the AAM to ensure a good UK presence at El Museo Reimaginado in Buenos Aires in September – an event they are co-organising with TYPA, their local partner. Thanks to my Buenos Aires based colleagues Alfredo Fierro and Fabiana Cabral, we have excellent relations with the Argentine experience economy sector – and we are winning business.

UKTI’s work with the museum sector – an important element of the experience world – has many other facets. In May we brought a strong group of overseas buyers and some of our commercial staff to the Museums and Heritage Show at Olympia. In doing so, we brokered over 100 business meetings and the signs are that good levels of business will follow. In November, there will be a UKTI stand at Exponatec in Cologne – mainland Europe’s leading museum supply show. All UK visitors can use the facility and we have offered experienceuk members free digital publicity through showing a tailored version of the Directory onscreen at the venue. We will do something similar at El Museo Reimaginado and there will be the usual UKTI international business session at the Museums Association Annual Conference in Birmingham. West Midlands.

On reflection, my 48 hours in Atlanta had a distinctly Alice In Wonderland feel. I spent the first night at the Renaissance Airport Concourse. It is right on the airport perimeter, just like the Renaissance at Heathrow. In fact, I had an excellent view of it from the aircraft as we reached the stand – it was about 500 yards away. It took me over an hour and a half to cover that distance. Immigration and security were slow but OK – the real problem was that no hotel shuttle buses use the International Terminal. This meant finding a bus which connected the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal. I managed that fairly easily, but so did about a hundred other people. Once safely squashed in to the luggage rack, I anticipated a five minute jaunt along some of those intriguing intra-airport roads. Nope. The transfer involved a journey of what must have been several miles, many of them on public highways. It was dark, but I’m pretty sure I saw a sign saying “TAMPA WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS” at one point.

It actually was a rainy night in Georgia, which meant a lively walk to the Hotel Shuttle Terminal Concourse Ground Transportation Intermodal Center Hub Zone W Interface Connection Area. The hotel shuttle duly showed up and five minutes later I was at the hotel. I’d called ahead to reserve a room overlooking the runway, as these have balconies, whereas the rooms at the back of the hotel (rather optimistically referred to as “city view”) do not. At check-in I was offered a complimentary bottle of wine – I chose red. Suitably energised, I headed for the bar to have a couple of Sweetwater IPAs (good) and a container of Southern Fried Chicken. The latter caused a little confusion as I didn’t want either the side salad or the vegetables that came with it, thereby causing the computer to go on strike. I then adjourned to the room for a nightcap of red, whilst breathing the Southern night air and aviation fuel.

Except that the room featured a “city view”, there was no balcony and the red wine was a presumptuous little Chardonnay/Semillon in a small swimming pool of ice. But I must say that at breakfast the next morning, the biscuits and gravy was outstanding (I’d ordered cornflakes). No I hadn’t; breakfast was brilliant.

The second night, at the somewhat swankier Ritz-Carlton (they’d given me a 75% discount, thus bringing the rate – just – within UKTI limits) was marginally more normal, though at checkout I was stunned to see that I’d racked up a bar bill of $52 – rather a lot for two small lemonades. The receptionist told me that a tip of $38 had been added “in air” which at first I thought was a charming Southern expression, but turns out to have been “in error”. Being an experience economy guy in UKTI isn’t all skittles, you know.

And finally, a shameless plug for our Experience Economy Day in Milan on 9 September. It promises to be an entertaining and enjoyable day – not being there would be a terrible air. Details from me at richard.parry@ukti.gsi.gov.uk

Next time….reflections on a busy week in Hong Kong, preparations for IAAPA Orlando and other things.