The government has recognised that helping London’s tourism industry to recover is essential for the success of the sector across the country and will play “an important part” in “spreading the benefits of tourism to all nations and regions of the UK”.
A tourism recovery plan published last week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport states that “as the main gateway for international visitors coming to the UK” and as “a huge draw for many high-spending long-haul markets”, the capital is “vitally important to the whole of the UK’s competitiveness as a tourism destination”.
The rare acknowledgment from Boris Johnson’s administration of the national economy’s dependence on London’s is accompanied by a characterisation of the city as “the third most visited city on the planet” in 2019, attracting a “record-breaking 21.7 million inbound visitors in 2019, accounting for 53 per cent of all visits to the UK, with inbound spending reaching £15.7 billion”.
The plan, whose Foreword is co-written by Secretary of State Oliver Dowden and sport and tourism minister Nigel Huddleston, adds: “With its mix of royal history, world-class culinary scene and rich cultural diversity, London combines quintessential Britishness with the unique character of a city that has been a global cultural hub for centuries”.
The document also cites statistics published by Sadiq Khan last October anticipating that combined spending by domestic and overseas visitors on “goods and services in London’s economic and cultural centre” would be nearly £11 billion less in 2020 than in 2019 and notes that the sector “accounts for as many as one in seven jobs in the capital and contributes almost 12 per cent of London’s GDP”.
On 1 January, the government scrapped tax-free spending by overseas visitors in the travel and retail sectors as the Brexit transition period ended despite warnings by retailers. A legal challenge by Heathrow, which claimed the government had failed to take into account the “devastating impacts” of the change, was dismissed in December.
A government summary of responses to a consultation on the change described the tax-free arrangement as “a costly relief which does not benefit the whole of GB equally, with the current use of the scheme largely centred on London.”
The tourism recovery plan says that national tourism agencies Visit Britain and Visit England will “work in partnership” with London & Partners, the not-for-profit company half-funded by City Hall which promotes the capital as a business and visitor destination, to initially concentrate on domestic market, promoting city-breaks in London.
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry, has welcomed the plan’s acceptance “that promoting London’s international tourism role helps to spread the benefits of tourism right across the UK”.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will monitor economic recovery in London and other cities and the government “will support the return of major events to London in 2021, such as London International Shipping Week and World Travel Market,” the plan says.
The Mayor launched his second term at City Hall re-affirming an election pledge to promote domestic tourism as part of a national recovery effort. London & Partners has launched a marketing campaign entitled Let’s Do London to encourage Londoners and day visitors from elsewhere to safely enjoy Central London’s attractions as they tentatively reopen for business.
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