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Avoiding a drop in tourists

Britain's tourism industry is warning that "woeful" government underfunding could jeopardise its prospects of achieving the target of a £2bn windfall from the London 2012 Olympics. It says that cuts to overseas marketing budgets are symptomatic of the government's failure to treat tourism seriously, and claims that the benefits of staging the games have been hyped by ministers.

The government has launched a consultation exercise on the tourism legacy from the games, which it has projected at between £1.4bn and £2bn.

The Tourism Alliance lobby group agrees the games will provide an unprecedented opportunity to showcase Britain, but says the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is moving too slowly to devise a tourism strategy for 2012. It says the industry is currently operating in a "vacuum, with no clarity of key facts".

The Tourism Alliance said: "Many potential leisure and business visitors will perceive that London and the UK will be 'overrun' with Olympic-related visitors in 2012 and will choose to visit another destination that year." Kurt Janson, the alliance's policy director, said there was a huge opportunity to promote Britain after the games, but funding had been "woeful in the extreme. There has been no increase in the funding of overseas marketing since 1997 - there has been a 20% drop. What is the good of putting together a strategy without resources or funding?"

The European Tour Operators Association issued an even starker warning in its submission to the department's consultation exercise: "Not one Olympic games in the last 20 years has resulted in a boost to tourism in the immediate aftermath. Every games has displaced tourists and this placing of customers elsewhere has resulted in a subsequent tourism slump."

From: Tourist industry gives stark warning over London Olympics, Andrew Culf, 3 1 07, The Guardian

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James Bidwell, the chief executive of Visit London, has revealed plans to cash in on the Olympics by turning the capital into a cultural and entertainment centre for the duration of the Games.“I’ve set myself a target to grow tourism during the Games,” he said. “The way to do that is through the most amazing non-Games. We need to create an incredible London festival and UK-wide festival so people see it’s too good to miss.”

Mr Bidwell said that giant screens positioned throughout the capital would draw people to watch the Olympics during the day and other forms of live entertainment in the evening. “Something needs to happen in Hyde Park every night, with the use of big screens,” he said. “A bit like Henman Hill, but with 50,000 people being able to watch what happens at the Games, then you have some live music, a concert that is beamed all around the country on these live sites. It could be popular music, jazz, classical.”

Mr Bidwell said that events would be co-ordinated by a committee chaired by David Lammy, the Culture Minister. “We’re having conversations about how all this will be funded,” Mr Bidwell said. “Funding is a hot topic around the Olympics at the moment, but to really change the perception, you need to invest.”

Separately, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, is seeking to rejuvenate Central London in time for the event. The London Development Agency is to build a £300 million conference centre in the West End — possibly in Oxford Street — in an attempt to capitalise on an array of post-Olympics conventions. Westminster City Council is planning a £70 million facelift for Leicester Square and a spruce-up of Chinatown, Covent Garden and the eastern end of Oxford Street.

From: Cultural festival to augment lure of 2012 Olympics, Dominic Walsh, Times, 26 12 06