It was good news at the London & Partners Tourism Means Business conference at County Hall last month. They presented record visitor numbers to the capital in 2015 and forecasted continued growth for the next five years, despite the potential post-Brexit challenges that London will face.
Visitor numbers for 2015 hit a record high with 31.5 million overnight trips to the capital recorded, made up of 18.6 million international visits (+9% from 2014); and 12.9 million domestic overnight visits (+7% from 2014); as well as 280 million domestic day visits, the highest volume seen since the peak of 2012 and the Olympics. Tourism expenditure also reached record levels at £15 billion, up 35% since 2010. Final 2016 figures will be released in April but it looks like the growth story continues.
Key overseas markets
The vast majority of our inbound tourism comes from the USA (12%) and Europe (66%) with France being our largest European inbound market (11%). Germany, Italy and Spain complete our top five markets. In terms of visitor spend, the US is by far the highest of all the overseas markets, with overall expenditure reaching £1.8 billion in 2014, more than twice that generated by France and more than three times that of Germany. It is projected that growth in visits from the US will continue steadily over the next five years, with an overall increase of 21%, and a possible peak of 7% in 2017. Strong growth is also expected from key European markets, partly due to the pound’s decline, making visiting London cheaper.
Over the past five years, we’ve seen significant growth from China with visits up 202% and spend up 254% since 2010. 2015 figures rank China at 22 for visitor numbers and 10 for spend, although London is currently only taking 0.1% of all Chinese outbound tourists. However, there is huge potential to increase our market share as the number of Chinese passport holders is set to increase by 100 million over the next decade. The UK government is working to ease the visa application process for Chinese visitors and there are plans to introduce a new ten-year multiple entry visit visa for the same price as the current two year visa. We’ve also witnessed large growth from the Middle East and this trend is set to continue over the next five years driven by countries on the Gulf Coast such as Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
In the light of the EU Referendum, London & Partners commissioned a leisure tourism sentiment research project to gauge leisure visitors’ perceptions of London as a destination. This revealed that London is still a top choice as a city break destination, with only Paris and Rome offering strong competition. In fact, intention to visit the capital has improved over the past twelve months with 53% (net) indicating that they would be more likely to visit the city now compared to one year ago. This result has been aided by the pound’s decline, making visiting London cheaper; the perception of London as a relatively safe city; and a very successful #LondonisOpen campaign headed by the Mayor post the EU referendum. London is currently the number one choice for Americans, Italians and Spanish looking to take a city break; and second choice for the French and UK residents.
Culture is the #1 driver to the capital
Culture is one of London’s most valuable selling points. The city is unrivalled in its extensive cultural offering, making this a key driver for visits to the capital. Historic landmarks and architecture, attractions, parks and waterways, and museums and galleries all feature in the top five drivers for visiting London, while theatre, music and performance is the tenth highest driver. Nearly every attraction, whose admissions are recorded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport, has seen an increase in its numbers of overseas visitors since 2010.
Priorities for London & Partners going forward
Key priorities for London & Partners include focusing on the visitor experience and looking to convert first time visitors into multiple/ repeat visitors. In 2015, three quarters of visitors had been to London multiple times and, on average, visitors will come to London five times per decade. They are also looking to boost off peak travel to the capital (September – March) with themed months and sporting events, as over 70% of visitors surveyed said that they would consider travelling to London outside of the summer months. They are working with the GLA to improve infrastructure and amenities to future proof London as a tourist destination i.e. coach parking, free wifi across the city; and to improve visitor information and help tourists to unlock the best experiences. In particular, they are looking to create better awareness of London’s food offering (only 46% of visitors were satisfied with their food experience, compared to 79% overall) and London’s outer borough experiences, as visitor satisfaction jumps when tourists venture beyond central London. They will continue to showcase London’s outstanding cultural offering and are currently working on their London’s Autumn Season 2017 campaign which last year delivered a global reach of 162 million across 43 countries.
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