London 2012 will have a positive impact on future UK tourism but the government still needs to do more to help, said delegates at the latest WTM Meridian Club Think Tank.
Senior buyers from WTM Meridian Club involved the hotel sector – hoteliers, wholesalers, inbound operators and Travel Management Companies - met in central London earlier.
The event took place under Chatham House rules, ensuring that all comments are unattributed.
Many of the inbound tour operators in the room admitted they “didn’t bother” including London in their packages during the Games because of the lack of available rooms.
Some operators replaced London with Liverpool, Manchester and the West Country while Edinburgh also benefited from displaced business.
One TMC which required rooms in London during the Games managed by focusing on hotel chains with experience of Olympics allocation, so that when rooms were put back onto the open market the TMC was first in line.
One Chinese specialist said their business was unable to secure rooms in advance of the Games, but a few weeks before the event rooms became available which it was unable to use at such short notice.
However, a few people also noted that some hotels held out for Olympic business and ignored long-standing relationships.
One person said that this had left a sour taste and another talked about breaking the bonds of trust.
Looking ahead, almost all guests believed that London had benefited from not only the exposure of the Games but also the positive publicity relating to how efficiently the public transport had worked.
Nonetheless, many expressed concern about the cost of getting around London for visitors, particularly those who came from cities where public transport is significantly cheaper.
Concerns were also expressed about the cost of hotels in London compared with other European cities, for leisure and corporate guests alike.
A Scandinavian brochure-based business said it was looking to include packages to London in its 2014 brochure product for the first time in a decade as a result of interest in the UK post-Olympics.
However, many felt that the UK government was not doing enough to help the industry. Hoteliers in particular noted that the UK industry is subject to 20 per cent VAT while European rivals pay single-digit rates.
Visas were also a big concern, particularly the UK’s insistence that Chinese visitors require a separate visa to visit the UK, whereas a Schengen visa gives Chinese visitors access to all of Europe’s hotspots.
The UK attracts only 300,000 visitors from China a year.
It is understood that France – which is included in Schengen – attracts eight times as many. Chinese visitors to Europe are also very high spenders, it was pointed out.
Opinion was divided though on whether VisitBritain should focus its resources on growing new markets such as China or trying to get more business from established markets such as France or the US.
The fact that the UK government has cut VisitBritain’s budget was also noted.
Reed Travel Exhibitions director World Travel Market, Simon Press, said: “It was fitting that the last Meridian Club Think Tank of 2012 should focus on the Olympics.
“It is great for UK tourism that a global audience witnessed the success and that there is a positive momentum for tourism.
“While APD is often the focus of industry complaints, VAT rates on the hospitality industry and visa restrictions are also holding UK inbound industry back, reveals the WTM Think Tank.”