By Kyle Haughton, managing director of City Cruises
2013 is a year of opportunity for London and its tourism market.
Post-Olympic visitor numbers are expected to grow by 11% from 2013-2015, reaching 14.1 million leisure visitors in 2015.
Prime Minister David Cameron has recognised this, and highlighted tourism as one of the top focuses for London this year.
However, the UK will fail to capitalise on this if three key factors are not addressed – Air Passenger Duty (APD), visa restrictions and airport capacity.
APD tax restrictions are a huge barrier to growth in the current economic situation.
The UK has one of the highest taxes in European countries, reducing the appeal for travellers to come to London over other European cities.
This is having a detrimental effect on the inbound market – preventing the growth of the London hospitality industry and restricting jobs.
London is the hub for inbound tourism to the UK; APD tax therefore not only directly impacts London tourism, but also regional tourism.
The Government needs to take action on APD and understand this would be hugely beneficial to the UK tourism market as a whole.
An ideal scenario would see APD tax reduced but the least we need to see is a promise that APD taxes will be frozen for a number of years.
This will ensure flights to and from London are cost-comparable with the rest of Europe, making it an affordable and desirable holiday destination.
Secondly, visa restrictions are a reason people are not choosing London as their next destination to visit in 2013 – whether it be for business or leisure.
Chinese visitors account for almost one-fifth of all spending in London, with the average spend per visit at £1,480 according to London & Partners.
Chinese tourists are able to visit 25 European countries after acquiring the single Schengen visa. However, this does not apply in Britain.
The ever-increasing numbers of Chinese visitors to Europe are being put off Britain as they need to apply for a separate visa, meaning more money is being spent in cities such as Paris rather than London.
The government has said they will work to improve this issue, but it needs to be a priority for 2013, to avoid other parts of Europe capitalising on the income and growth brought by tourists.
Finally, airport capacity in London must be addressed.
Mayor Boris Johnson has previously expressed anger that any further delay in establishing a proper aviation strategy for the southeast will give the advantage to continental hubs.
As it stands, Schipol Airport (Amsterdam) is expected to outstrip Heathrow in terms of passengers and flights within the next decade.
It is important to look to the future and begin planning this now, so as to ensure London can support increased inbound tourism in the years to come.
Action must be taken by the government to urgently address these restrictions.
It is important to assess anything that is a current hindrance to growth, and look to maximise 2013 in particular, and the years to come.
It would be a waste if London, and the UK, was the first Olympic city not to capitalise on the growth opportunities.
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