The tourism landscape for London, and the United Kingdom as a whole, has largely been viewed through the lens of Brexit in recent years. With labour shortages in the hospitality and service industries affecting markets like London to a disproportionately high degree, and the city’s population being firmly in the “remain” camp, the aftermath of the UK’s referendum on its future in the European Union was certainly worth monitoring.
However, it became clear in the short run that the post-referendum uncertainty would be helpful to the city’s tourism industry — at least in the short term. The confusion about the consequences of the country’s departure from the EU prompted some international visitors to visit the historic capital while they still knew they could.
Even though London’s tourism numbers are strong, there are a few numbers that could be signs of a downward trend. In 2018, Paris received more visitors than London for the first time in a decade, putting England’s largest city in third place among the most visited destinations in the world. Visits to the city’s top ten tourist attractions were also down in 2017, despite steady visitor numbers that were driven by the post-Brexit travel bump.
Factors Affecting Inbound Travel
This slowdown is something that cannot be truly linked to post-referendum instability. The country’s authority on tourist attractions, ALVA, explained to BBC that the high price of a trip to London has been prohibitive for many travelers, leading them to pursue trips to more affordable destinations. This is made evident by the fact that visits to tourist attractions across the UK as a whole increased during this same year.
From generally high lodging costs to higher rates at restaurants and bars, London has consistently been the most expensive place to visit in Britain. This, of course, is consistent with the fact that a country’s largest city tend to be the most costly to visit, no matter where in the world. This reality has led some travelers who are yearning for a taste of British culture and the historic sights of England to visit other areas in the country.
Some travelers are also reported to be buying season passes to their local museums and galleries, instead of splurging on an expensive one-time trip to London. This has been a contributing factor in the city’s three-year-long museum visit downturn.
Who Is Visiting the City?
Topping the list of visits to the city are travelers from the United States, with France and Spain finishing second and third in nights stayed in 2018. Other European countries like Germany, Italy, and Ireland also rank among the top in terms of the number of visitors.
Even in the face of some emerging challenges, tourists are still flocking to London. Research from the House of Commons library shows that in 2018, half of all trips to the UK from overseas travelers were to London. That same year, the number of visitors to London was near to the entire population of the United Kingdom, and each of the top ten tourist attractions in the country were in the capital. Additionally, 54% of all inbound tourism spending in the country happens in London.
There is no shortage of things to do in the city. Tate Modern was named the most-visited tourist attraction in the UK, with other London attractions like the Tower of London and British Museum also landing near the top of the list.
What’s Next For London?
Following the short-term tourist boom of the 2012 Summer Olympics, efforts to capitalize on the global interest in London were in full effect. Strategic advertising to China sparked England’s goal of tripling the number of visitors from the world’s most populous country.
The city has also taken steps to ensure that they are establishing a strong foundation for the future of London tourism, as laid out in 2017’s A Tourism Vision For London. The report recognized the fact that even though visitor satisfaction is high, the city’s market share is being eroded by other destinations. Tourism is a significant part of the city’s economy, with 1 in 7 jobs being part of the tourism industry, meaning that keeping the industry healthy is critical to the capital as a whole.
The goal laid out in the report is to achieve 30% growth in tourism by 2025, which would bring the city’s total visitors to 40 million tourists. The plan concludes that infrastructure investment is essential to achieve this goal. Ensuring that London can keep up with what they expect to be growing numbers of tourists involves not just updates to physical spaces, but digitization that aligns with the prioritization of traveler engagement.
How can this be done? First off, the report suggests linking up Wi-Fi networks to make internet accessible in public spaces. With the mobile data options for many overseas visitors being very expensive, easily available Wi-Fi would make it far easier for travelers to share their experiences online through messaging, social media channels and reviews.
Business advocacy group London First has also laid out a series of recommendations that if acted upon, will put the city on course to reach its targets. These include increasing the length of the standard tourist visa and to use technology to approve and record visits. However, with the government attempting to tighten border security, the way the country balances inclusiveness and security will have a massive effect on London’s tourism.