London tourism needs overseas campaign to kick-start recovery, Assembly hears

London tourism needs overseas campaign to kick-start recovery, Assembly hears

London needs its overseas tourists back, and fast. That was the message from the normally lucrative hospitality industry at the London Assembly’s economy committee today, amid warnings that the capital is already losing out in the global competition for international visitors.

The committee heard that Sadiq Khan’s £7 million “Let’s Do London” campaign, launched in May, has delivered a £70 million boost to the city’s economy over the summer, attracting 280,000 mainly domestic visitors spending an average of £107 a day.

But getting international tourists back to the capital is the “big prize”, said Justine Simons, Khan’s deputy for culture and creative industries (pictured). “And that’s where we need some help.”

London’s tourist trade accounted for 12 per cent of the capital’s economy pre-pandemic and employed one in seven city workers, the committee heard. But with 70 per cent of its business coming from foreign visitors, it was recovering more slowly than in the rest of the UK, said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality.  

Nicholls joined Allen Simpson, acting chief executive of tourism and inward investment agency London & Partners, in calling for an immediate £15 million campaign to promote the city overseas, warning that competitor cities were already out-promoting and out-spending London, including New York which has been running a £30 million tourism campaign since April. 

“We need an equivalent to the domestic campaign internationally, and that’s going to need large investment,” she said. “We need to get out there as quickly as possible.”

A promotional boost could bring recovery forward by a year, said Simpson. Without it, he added, “the recovery will still come but it will come more slowly. And in the meantime many people will lose their jobs.”

Despina Tsatsas, outgoing executive director of the Young Vic, told the committee that the theatre did not expect to recover until 2024 as international tourism is “critical for stability”, while Sandra Botterell of Kew Gardens, reporting day visitors at just 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, also predicted three years to recover.

Central London’s hotels, which are particularly dependent on international tourism and business travel, continue to generate just 20 per cent of normal revenue, added Nicholls, while hospitality also faces the “double challenge” of staff shortages and supply chain issues, with a 10 per cent vacancy rate and 20 per cent of goods currently missing in every delivery. “Survival is the thing,” she said.

Committee chair Shaun Bailey agreed the sector’s concerns should be passed on to government, including a call to maintain the cut in VAT charged on theatre and concert tickets and other attractions introduced as part of government support to business last year. “And we should let everyone know they should be making that big trip to London,” he said. 

With spending by overseas tourists in London estimated to have been £7.4 billion lower in 2020 than anticipated before the pandemic struck, a bid for further support for the industry is expected to be included in the Mayor’s submission to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, due to be published tomorrow.

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