Keeping our capital working for the UK

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The gloves are off-time to win back London’s tourism top spot


Jasmine Whitbread supporting London & Partners’ launch of a Tourism Vision for London. With the Mayor of London, Night Czar and our members Hilton and AirBnb. 

London & Partners’ Tourism Vision, launched by the Mayor last night and supported by London First, shows our collective determination to continue to help the sector grow and thrive.

The evidence shows London is a hugely popular destination, attracting a record-breaking 19 million visitors last year. Tourism already creates 700,000 jobs in the capital and around 12%% of London’s GDP. We are also a gateway to destinations around the whole of the UK, drawing in tourists who contribute £127 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the national economy.

But we can’t rest our laurels. We know we’re going to be challenged over the coming years.

London has just lost its top-spot for the most overnight visitors to Bangkok, and is now second for tourist spend to Dubai. The focus of the global economy continues to shift eastwards. London must make itself as attractive as possible to emerging economies.

We are in a race with other world cities; to make sure London is the first place tourists think of when planning their holiday, their flight and visa options are accessible, and their experience of the basics like tourist information and getting around town is hassle-free. We want them to finish their trip raving about the food markets and instagramming pics of St Paul’s, not bemoaning the queues at immigration. Ensuring London’s global reputation and keeping us at the top will take forward-thinking policy and resourcing.

London & Partners’ Tourism Vision underlines the great job they do with the resources they are given. However, there is a limit to what can be achieved with modest funding and a lack of direct control over assets like advertising or event spaces (something enjoyed by agencies in many competitor cities). To keep London competitive, those limitations must be addressed. But there is more we can do:


As part of the UK China Visa Alliance, London First has consistently called for an enabling approach to visitor visas from key emerging tourist markets with huge growth potential, including exploring better use of multi-entry visas and visa waivers. The promised pilot of 10yr visas for Chinese tourists cannot come soon enough.


The new Airports National Policy Statement must deliver a long-term aviation framework enabling new runway capacity at Heathrow and other airports in the South East. London still lacks direct air connections to 128 of the biggest cities in the world, and their tourist markets.

As the government considers measures like Electronic Travel Authority, we must design a border experience that is secure but welcoming, and responsive to large-scale events.


And finally, but perhaps most importantly, the government has to keep our doors open to the people that make London a success. London’s hospitality industry is built on talented, hardworking people from all over the EU. According to research by London First and PwC around 30% of London’s entire hospitality workforce (250,000) are from the EU. Guaranteeing their status is the least the government can do to give certainty to them and to their employers.

But it’s not enough. The British Hospitality Association has estimated that without new migration into the hospitality workforce from outside the UK, the industry faces a shortfall of 60,000 recruits a year. Any ham-fisted restrictions on our ability to recruit the people we need puts growth in London’s vital tourism industry at risk.

And what an opportunity to jeopodise – According to London & Partners’ modelling, visits to London have the potential to increase from 31 million today to over 40 million annually by 2025. Spending is forecast to increase from £15 billion to £22 billion over the same period. But only if we maintain that steady growth.

So London First is keen to support L&P’s Tourism Vision for London, and we’ll be working with our members and partners to drive the changes needed to turn it into reality.

Matt Hill, London First Director, Retail, Hospitality and Leisure


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