Monday 7 November 2011

Waving Goodbye To Tourists

There was a brief news item yesterday; overtaken by more Olympic matters later, that suggested that for next summer at present, the bookings for tourists in London are much reduced. It is said that they are being put off by the prospect of increased prices because of The Games.

Normally, I would amongst the first to charge the Olympics with the guilt for this alleged misfortune, but in this case it goes beyond a “Not Proven” verdict, the nod to Edinburgh’s claim that they will benefit. However, whether the attraction of the most expensive tram lines in history will work is another matter.

With sixty plus years of traipsing around London from time to time back to the 1940’s to recall, it is not a matter that London in 2012 will cost a lot, it already does and in the last decade has become rapidly worse.

“Spending a penny” was once a statement of fact for doing natural functions in public toilets and then discriminatory in that men paid only for when it was required to sit whilst women, who always sit paid for both the fore and aft functions. Now in some London toilets it is 50p for entry, men and women, or 120 old pence. Whether inflation is the right word for this is doubtful, but it is typical of the rise in costs.

Normally, extractive industries are described as “primary” and refer to taking resources from the ground. Then there is using them, which is secondary, whilst tourism has been classed as a “tertiary” service industry. But in our new money based and financial world it may be that tourism has become very much an extractive activity.

There are figures quoted that tourism has come to amount to 15% of the London economy and it is possible to believe it when just looking around at all the hotel rooms that have been created, the numbers and types of food outlets and the amount of retailing now provided.

The trouble with extractive industries is that there is a pattern. First they are profitable in the early stages of expansion to meet increasing demand and then there might come a “peak” of production. When that is passed not only do the stresses of production take their toll but a combination of rising prices and reduced take up can occur whatever the laws of supply and demand might suggest.

What does strike me is that central London now for some reason has lost its way, has become less attractive and the hordes of people apparently simply milling about have become a deterrent to enjoyment. Unless you have serious money to spend you are fed a diet of processed food and pay a heavy price for anything to drink.

When we see the groups of blank eyed people being marched about, the coaches with tired groups hoping against hope for at least one decent night’s sleep; the endless noise and the mingling of the mob, what are they here for? It is not the haven of Heathrow or the gardens of Gatwick that is the draw. It is a “heritage” now looking very tatty and at very high prices.

As the world economy changes so will tourism. With so many on middle incomes being squeezed, savings eroded, pensions diminished and others with risky futures just how much tourism can there be in a future when travel costs increase with fuel and other price rises? In the last couple of decades millions of people have visited. Just how many have gone back to say to others that there are better places to go to?

Additionally, how many of the younger generations will have much time for or interest in our particular brand of heritage and media culture? The Games may well be the last hurrah for London tourism and it will go into a decline that might be slow but could well be steep.

The implications of this are interesting if anyone cares to think about it.

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