The Olympic Games offered huge benefits to UK tourism but there were risks that had to be addressed, Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive, British Hospitality Association, told industry leaders today.
Speaking at a conference to discuss the impact of the Games on hospitality and tourism, she said that the Games were expected to attract 320,000 overseas visitors to London and over 5,000 journalists and broadcasters.
“They will bring many new visitors to Britain who would not otherwise have come, thus opening up new visitors markets, which is precisely what the UK wants,” she said.
“If visitors gain a favourable impression during their visit, they will want to return. This will be one of the most important legacies of the Games not only in London but throughout the UK. They are a unique opportunity to increase awareness of the UK in the global tourism market.”
Citing Barcelona and Sydney as cities that had hugely benefited from the Olympic Games, she said that the London Games could have a major impact on future visitor numbers providing the risks were recognised. There was strong evidence that repeat visitors visited parts of the country other than London, which would thus spread the long-term benefits throughout the UK
“Over 4.7bn people saw some part of the Beijing Games and VisitBritain estimates that the London Games will provide an additional £1.6bn of Games-related positive media coverage for the UK.”
But she pointed that one of the most significant risks was the transition of Regional Development Agencies to Local Enterprise Partnerships and Destination Management Organisations.
“There is absolutely no co-ordination nationally in this and there is a grave danger that tourism will lose out in the reorganisation.”
She expressed concern at the UK’s high level of VAT, compared with the low rates charged on accommodation by other leading European countries.
“This puts the UK at a severe competitive disadvantage which is damaging UK tourism even harder since the rise in VAT to 20 per cent – the third highest in the EU..
“In competitive terms, UK tourism is operating with one hand tied behind its back, and this will become ever more damaging if we don’t do something about it.”
Pointing out that high visa costs and the difficulties of completing visa forms were deterring visitors from important new source countries like China and India from visiting the UK, she said barriers to growth had to be removed.
“On the one hand we want to encourage tourism to the UK but on the other we make it extremely difficult and expensive to achieve this objective.”
Increases in airport passenger duty would negatively affect long-term tourism trends, while the reduction in funding of UK tourism agencies was preventing them from maximizing their overseas or domestic promotional efforts.
She warned that Britain’s welcome from all sectors of the economy, including hotels, restaurants, retail and travel, would need to be second-to-none during the Games.
“We are creating a £100m fund to promote the UK but there is yet no visibility at the airports or ports of entry to maximise the impact of the Games, nor with UK Border Agency staff.
“Britain is on show so we must make sure that we provide a quality product with a quality service. “
Value rather than price was the key determinant in the consumer’s decision to pay a return visit.
“Will I come again? The answer must always be yes if we are to truly maximize the benefit of the Games.”
She asked whether sufficient attention had been paid to the needs of the Paralympic Games.
“Most new hotels have in-built designs to help those with disabilities but more needs to be done to enable us to be confident that the industry as a whole can satisfactorily cope with the high level of demand generated by the Paralympics.”