In this extract from the introduction to our latest title editor Andrew Smith outlines the increasing presence and significance of London’s tourism.
Available to read or download open access Destination London: The Expansion of the Visitor Economy was published on the 21st May and is an initiative of the Tourism and Events Research Group of the University of Westminster. (The complete referenced version of the introduction is available on its own here).
‘London hosts a very significant visitor economy and overnight visitors contribute approximately £14.9 billion of expenditure to the city every year. When the city hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 the UK’s capital was already a leading global destination, but staging this mega-event instigated a new period of growth. In the period 2011-2016 tourism numbers increased by 25% and over the past few years the city has experienced a series of record years for arrivals. Despite already being one of the three most visited cities in the world – hosting 31.2 million overnight visitors in 2016 – city officials expect visitor arrivals to increase further: to over 40 million overnight visitors by 2025. Put simply, tourism is already a very significant economic and social phenomenon in London, but over the next few decades it will become even more pivotal and pervasive.
London’s status as one of the world’s most visited destinations is not universally welcomed. At the moment there is considerable media and academic attention dedicated to the problem of rapid tourism growth and what has become known as over-tourism. This coverage has focused on various European capitals: from Berlin to Barcelona, Ljubljana to Lisbon. Even though the UK’s capital city seems like the ideal case through which to explore the ways that destinations evolve and expand, there has been surprisingly little attention devoted to London in these debates. This book explores how and why tourism is growing in Europe’s most popular city destination; and what benefits and problems accrue from expanding the tourism sector in a city already hosting 19 million overseas tourists and 12 million overnight domestic visitors every year. These additional people mean London’s population grows considerably every day, especially when one considers the 300,000 people that commute daily to the capital from outside Greater London and the daily influx of 750,000 non staying visitors. London hosts a residential population of around 8.8 million people, but its ‘daytime’ population – i.e. that which includes workers, visitors and tourists is estimated to be over well over 10 million. Tourists and day visitors now make up over 10% of London’s daytime population.
The book analyses how and why the expansion of the visitor economy is happening; and what effect this is having on the city. Contributions from various authors demonstrate how Destination London is developing through the extension of tourism into new spaces and new spheres. The book outlines how parts of London not previously regarded as tourism territories – e.g. residential suburbs, peripheral parks and private homes – are now subject to the tourist gaze. Tourists are being encouraged to visit places outside the centre and stay in accommodation owned by residents. In a similar manner, London is constantly creating new eventscapes to capitalise on the experience economy and providing reasons to visit at different times – in winter and at night. These types of initiatives feature prominently in London’s new ‘Tourism Vision’, which explicitly outlines the city’s aim to grow tourism ‘by encouraging visitors to explore the city’s outer districts, both in and out of season and around the clock’ .
Contemporary expansion is being facilitated by extending the capacity of existing services (e.g. by running the Underground 24 hrs a day), and by building new infrastructure (e.g. the new Crossrail network and a new runway at Heathrow Airport) and accommodation provision (plans for 23,000 new hotel rooms by 2025). However, growth in the visitor economy is driven more by market and cultural trends than any deliberate planning and policy; and this unfettered growth is likely to outrun formal provision. The rise of social media and the sharing economy, and the desire for new, distinctive and personalised experiences, are pushing tourists into peripheral locations, but also advancing tourism into spheres not normally considered tourism territory. Growth is likely to be enabled and absorbed by unofficial tourism providers including London’s residents who now provide a range of services: most obviously accommodation, but also food, travel, and guiding. This book explores these trends and, in doing so, highlights the mechanisms and processes that are driving the expansion of the visitor economy. The discussion enhances understanding of London, but it also helps us to better appreciate the ways that tourism in cities is expanding into new spaces, times and spheres’.