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Major decline in international visitors for London

London`s international tourism performance was devastated last year by a deadly mix of circumstances – weakening US demand;…

London`s international tourism performance was devastated last year by a deadly mix of circumstances – weakening US demand;  the strength of the pound against many major currencies, particularly the euro; the foot-and-mouth outbreak which began to impact on international arrivals in March; and the aftermath of the 11 September tourist attacks. The net result for 2001 was an estimated decline of at least 7 per cent in international visitor arrivals, says the London  Tourist Board (LTB ) – down from 13.1 million in 2000 to an estimated 12.2 million.

There was an even more dramatic decline in international spending, which dropped by 16 per cent from £6.9 billion in 2000 to £5.8 billion in 2001, a loss of over £1 billion. The LTB based its estimates on preliminary figures for the whole of the UK, and final figures could show even greater losses.

In terms of international markets, the collapse of US visitors in 2001 was the most crippling – in 2000 US visitors made up 22 per cent of all international visitors to the capital and accounted for 25 per cent of all spending. First results for 2001 for the UK as a whole show that visitors from North America declined by 10 per cent; US visitors to London are likely to have declined by a greater percentage. Visitors from Europe to UK were down by 6 per cent in 2001 – again, another major blow for the capital where European market sources are crucial. Germany is London`s third most important market in terms of numbers of arrivals and second in terms of spending. Six European countries are ranked in London`s top ten international visitor markets in terms of volume – France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands and Spain.

With a record number of outbound trips from the UK in 2001 – buoyed by the strength of sterling – London was not able to attract domestic visitors to fill the void left by international arrivals. London`s domestic visitor count for 2001, according to first estimates, dropped by a disappointing 10 per cent to 16.6 million. The loss in domestic expenditure, however, was less serious, declining by some 3 per cent.

Research by the LTB has revealed that, at the start of this year, more than 70 per cent of tourism enterprises in London were reporting a downturn in trading of up to 25 per cent. London`s visitor attractions of all types were suffering. Visitors to the British Museum were down 13.8 per cent, and to Westminster Abbey down by 19 per cent. Many of London`s venues are more dependent on international visitors than those elsewhere in the UK – in 2000, for instance, roughly 40 per cent of visitors to the Tower of London were from USA, 35 per cent from Europe and elsewhere abroad, and just 25 per cent domestic.

A whole raft of hotel results also clearly illustrate problems faced by London`s hotels. Whitbread, for instance, which runs the Marriott franchise in the UK, saw revenue at its core London hotels decline by 25 per cent in the two months following 11 September, while Millennium & Copthorne experienced a 29 per cent decline at its London properties. Andersen`s figures for hotel performance in 2001 show that London was the worst hit of all European city markets. London`s occupancy for 2001 fell 9.6 per cent to 74 per cent, while the heavy discounting to stimulate demand resulted in a 5.8 per cent drop in average room rates (when calculated in euro).

In the light of the dramatic losses to the tourism sector, the London Tourism Action Group, set up by London`s mayor and bringing together a number of agencies including the LTB, secured government funding of £4 million for a rescue package. This has been boosted by funds from the private sector and also by switching £500,000 from the LTB`s overseas tourism marketing allocation. The rescue plan kicked off in the last months of 2001 with a £500,000-campaign to promote London`s theatres to the British market, achieving almost 47,000 ticket sales through the promotion.

The second phase, which got underway in February this year, focuses on special deals on hotels, attractions and restaurants. The British Tourist Authority`s promotion to international markets has now intensified, focusing on Germany, France, USA, Canada, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, and London stands to benefit from an additional fund of £40 million to support tourism in the UK which was announced at the end of February.

The key attraction for boosting visitors to London in 2002 is the Golden Jubilee celebration of 50 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Although the Jubilee will be celebrated throughout the UK, London will be a focal point. A range of exhibitions, concerts, processions, parties and events are planned in the capital throughout the summer – several are being promoted at ITB. Some events, such as classical and pop concerts in the grounds of Buckingham Palace – will take place during the four-day Jubilee holiday, 1-4 June, but the bulk will be spread between April and September.

Among the special events, the Golden Jubilee `String of Pearls` expands the programme established over the past two years in which some 80 of London`s great institutions not normally open to the public, will open their doors and host a range of events.

Among many Jubilee exhibitions, the Queen`s Gallery at Buckingham Palace will reopen after extensive renovations. The Historic Royal Palaces – the palaces of Kensington and Hampton Court, the Banqueting House and the Tower of London – have several exhibitions including a display of royal wedding dresses that begins with Queen Victoria`s wedding dress worn in 1840. The Tower of London`s exhibition `Castle and Crown` will show rare jewels never previously displayed.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.