John Penrose, the tourism and heritage minister at the department for culture, media and sport, has a busy time ahead of him with the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony kicking off tomorrow.
Breaking Travel News catches up with the conservative MP to discuss his expectations and plans for the Games.
Breaking Travel News: What are your expectations for the Olympics in London?
John Penrose: My hopes for the Games are much the same as most people’s, I suspect.
First and foremost I want to see a magnificent sporting spectacle taking place at all the venues across the country, and for all the visitors that come here to see it to go away with nothing but great memories.
I also very much hope that those around the world watching it on television will get a flavour of what the UK is like in the 21st century.
We have an enormous amount to offer visitors and, with any luck, we’ll be able to showcase what we do best to a huge audience, many of whom we hope will want to come here and see it for themselves in years to come.
BTN: Can you provide the official international visitor figures for the Olympic period?
JP: It’s impossible to say, to be honest.
What we do know, though, is that in a normal year we would expect to welcome around six million overseas visitors, with around half of these visiting London.
This year, of course, we have the Olympics on top.
There’ll be 600,000 international spectators, 22,000 media and around 6,000 members of the Olympic and Paralympic family coming for the Games.
Now that doesn’t mean you can simply add all these numbers together.
Experience tells us that there’s a displacement effect on these occasions so the final total really won’t become clear until well after the event.
Our expert advisors at VisitBritain, however, reckon that visitor figures will be broadly the same as for last year and, since that figure was a record high, I think we’ll be more than happy to repeat it this year.
The real test, of course, will be how we do in the years to come.
We’ve invested in the biggest ever marketing campaign for the UK at home and abroad this year and we very much hope that this, working alongside the publicity generated by the Games and the Jubilee in June, will pay off in terms of visitor numbers for years to come.
BTN: Which activities will you be involved with during the Olympic period?
JP: As you’d expect, I’ll be taking part in lots of events to help promote the UK as a great place for tourism and business while the eyes of the world are on us.
This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the country and, like all my colleagues in Government, I intend to take full advantage of it.
I’m also hoping to get to some of the different venues to see how things are going outside the main Olympic park.
More generally, of course, I’ll be watching lots of it on TV with my family and hoping very much to see the Union Flag hoisted above British medal winners as often as possible.
BTN: What does hosting The Games mean for London ?
JP: London is already one of the great cities of the world, at or near the top of the ‘must-see’ list for most people overseas.
But tourism is a ferociously competitive business with the profile of visitors – and what they want from their visit - changing all the time.
So it’s really important that London, and the rest of the UK, keeps its offer to people coming here fresh and interesting.
London 2012 is a brilliant chance for us to showcase Britain to people in the new and important markets such as South Africa, India, Brazil, China and Brazil.
BTN: What has happened to British Tourism Week?
JP: British Tourism Week has been succeeded by English Tourism Week which was a huge success.
With an official opening by The Prince of Wales and more than 450 events, it generated great positive publicity, and helped remind everyone in this country what’s on offer on their own doorstep.