By Anna Gouldman
Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge speaks exclusively to BTN moments after London won the Olympic bid for 2012
I arrived at Trafalgar Square last Wednesday at 12.45pm as the Olympic 2012 bid results were announced, en route to interview Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, Chairman, VisitBritain.
As I stepped off the London underground, crowds cheered and waved their flags. Champagne was sprayed around Nelson’s Column and thousands danced in the streets. Colourful confetti was blasted into the air. The atmosphere was jubilant as London revelled in the sweet smell of victory.
This was, of course, the day before the London bombing, which saw London’s spirit plummet back down to earth with not one, but four devastating explosions. London’s elation turned to tears in just seconds.
However the message, which has been so defiantly projected in the wake of these attacks is clear: London is not afraid and will rise above the looming threat of terrorism, carrying on regardless.
And what better place to start than with the victory of the Olympic bid for 2012. Once just a vision, this has become a new reality, with a deadline to meet and an infrastructure to build.
Lord Marshall is well known for his tremendous contributions a multitude British industries, including travel and tourism. Last year, he retired as Chairman of British Airways having joined as CEO in 1983. He was made a Life Peer in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 1998 having already been Knighted in 1987.
Lord Marshall has recently shifted much of his focus to London, taking up post as Chairman of VisitBritain in January of this year. BTN got an EXCLUSIVE interview with this Captain of Industry amidst the celebrations of London’s triumph.
Commenting on the results, he said: “I am over the moon - I am not just thrilled. I think it’s absolutely fantastic…. sensational”.
2004 brought an all time tourism record for Britain, with 27.7 million overseas visitors lifting visitor spend to £13 billion. Commenting on tourism in London during 1st quarter 2005, Lord Marshall revealed: “We are off to a good start in 2005. Visitors are up by 9% and the spend is up by 7%”. He continued: “This announcement today is another great filler for the balance of this year and the next several years”.
Lord Marshall attributes London’s success to the impressive effort that was put into the bid by Lord Sebastian Coe and his team and the frantic last minute lobbying in Singapore by the Prime Minister, Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell: “I think that what we have done is put together a total picture, which I believe is extremely impressive. I felt that we deserved to win”. He also remarked that the commonwealth games that were held in Manchester were likely to have been a major contributor to the successful bid.
As one of the founders of the London First organization Lord Marshall became the inaugural chairman of London First Centre. He created and chaired the London Development Partnership, the prototype body for the new London Development Agency which has brought business, local government, trade unions, higher education, training organisations and the voluntary sector together in a coalition for economic development.
I asked Lord Marshall why he has given so much to the city. He responded: “As a Londoner I believe in our capital city and I’ve always wanted to make whatever contribution I can to improve London in whatever way I can”.
He believes the Olympics will be tremendous for London both in sporting terms and because of the regeneration of the East side of London. Lord Marshall informed me that a number of sports in the Olympics would be held outside London, which will mean new sports facilities nationwide.
Many have questioned whether or not London has the infrastructure in place to host the Olympics. According to Lord Marshall: “We of all the bidding cities have the most accommodation available to host the Olympics, but there is a lot more to be done. The infrastructure will be developed and built in the interim period of time”. He added “You are going to see massive improvement in public transport”.
Hotels certainly seem to be one step ahead. I am told the hotel packages for the delegates and people coming to the games are already agreed.
I am quickly reminded that under the Olympic rules, London is not allowed to market and promote the 2012 games before the Beijing Olympics are over, but Lord Marshall does not seem deterred by this. He commented: I think we are going to benefit immediately from the thrill, the excitement, the awareness that London is going to host this and think a lot more people are going to come here in the run up to the event”.
So what are VisitBritain’s projections for inbound tourism to the UK compared to normal occupancy rates? “Based on what happened with Sydney we are expecting the Olympic year itself to bring an additional half a million visitors and we expect that will result in an increase of £2 billion in spend from those visitors”. Lord Marshall revealed.
London certainly has a lot to look forward to. Whilst the hospitality industry has taken yet another blow as a result of last week’s attacks, most industry experts are predicting that this downturn in tourism will last for weeks, not months, with some London hotel occupancy levels already returning to pre-bomb levels. The plans, hopes and developments for the Olympics might just be what London needs during this difficult time.
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