As the curtain falls on the London Olympic Games, the government has launched their flagship tourism campaign. The venture, which has been funded through a combination of taxpayers’ money and a partnership with private businesses, will pump £10 million into various tourist organisations in a bid to ensure that the Games act as a catalyst for an influx of foreign visitors to the UK. There is a worry, however, that the campaign will not deliver for the regions.
In the 17 days of Olympic competition, London has been the most televised, photographed and talked about city on the planet. The opening ceremony was the perfect showcase of what Britain has to offer the one billion people who were watching around the world. Danny Boyle’s much-admired masterpiece was a celebration of British music, theatre, dance, film, history and heritage showcasing our nation’s unique culture and global appeal.
Even before the Games had begun however, Britain had seen a considerable rise in the number of visitors coming to the country. Between January and May this year, a record-breaking 4.58 million people visited Britain with many coming from Thailand, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa and India. This should come as no surprise to the Government. In fact, this is evidence that the Olympics impact on ’Brand Britain’ is very real.
Prior to the Games, a Deloitte study revealed that in a survey of 6,000 consumers, 80% of respondents from China and India said they were more likely to want to visit Britain in light of the publicity surrounding the Games. A further 60% suggested that they would like to buy more UK products and 77% of respondents said they wanted to learn more about the UK as a whole.
Clearly, the London Olympics can only do so much by themselves. If we are to truly maximise the tourism legacy of the Games, then the whole country should standby to play its part and the Government should work hard to ensure they do. In 2012 the challenges that Britain faces to increase visitor footfall are widespread and they include tax, VAT, transport, aviation and hotel accommodation.
There has been a tendency to focus on Britain’s great cities over the last fortnight. London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Newcastle, Manchester and Coventry have all hosted Olympic football whilst virtually every UK city or town played host to a competing Olympic team’s training camp. Yet there has been no projections for how these cities or regions will benefit from today’s announcement. How many of the 4.5million extra visitors to Britain are likely to visit Glasgow or Bristol? How many of the 60,000 extra jobs projected to be created, will be given to people in the Midlands as opposed to London?
Don’t get me wrong, investment is welcome and if there is one industry that has a proven track record of delivering jobs and growth it is the UK tourism industry. One in eleven working people are currently employed in tourism alone and last year’s additional tourist expenditure totalled enough to create 76,000 new jobs.
Going forward, the government must have a more targeted approach to increasing tourism across the home counties and smaller British cities. VisitEngland surveys revealed that in 2011, the South West and South East, alongside London, were the most visited regions of Britain with almost 50 million visits between them. Compare this with the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside which totalled just over 13 million visits.
When we consider that the Treasury’s contribution to this campaign is just £5 million, there are genuine and widespread concerns in the regions, that the government are not taking this brilliant tourist opportunity seriously enough. After all, this week’s announcement of new investment comes off of the back of a 34% government cut to VisitBritain’s funding. It’s therefore not hard to see why the tourism industry is sceptical about the government’s latest venture.
And the government have given them good to reason to be skeptical. The Lake District is a holiday destination of choice for millions of Brits each year. The ‘green green grass of England’s mountain hills’ were images beamed around the world at the beginning of the opening ceremony. It was therefore, a shame that Jeremy Hunt failed to deliver on his promise to spend £300,000 on marketing Cumbria and the Lake District during the games with posters and billboards displayed across the capital. With the campaign planned to belatedly begin next week, there is a feeling that Cumbria has missed its Olympic chance.
We cannot afford to let that happen again but I fear that it will unless the government find ways of working with local tourism boards such as ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ and ‘Visit Heart of England’ in the Midlands. Of course, this feat has been made more difficult by Government cuts which have seen ‘Passionate People, Passionate Places’, in the North East, dismantled which might account for why there were just over 3 million visits to the region in 2011. I’m not yet convinced that the government has grasped the scale of the challenges facing these regions.
The London 2012 Games were an undoubted global success. The world has been falling over themselves to praise our country. Now we must make sure that we use this once in a lifetime chance to boost tourism across the whole of the UK.