London tourism – still hot, or just lukewarm now?

Feb 1st, 2011 | By | Category: London News

Samuel Johnson famously wrote the much quoted “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” The British author lived in the 18th Century, and although much has changed since then, it seems fair to say that the capital city still has a lot going for it. It might come as a surprise then, that a growing number of travellers now think that London is no longer a prime destination.

 

In 2006, London was the most visited city in the world, with an incredible 15.6 million tourists coming to see the sights. Just four years later, figures from the World Tourist Organisation show that London has now dropped into second place (14.1 million), knocked from the top spot by Paris, which was the chosen destination for 14.8 million travellers in 2010. Though the numbers of people travelling in their free time generally show a down-trend, which has been related to financial difficulties suffered globally, London seems to be feeling the side-effects more than other major cities.

More bad news for London came from the 2010 Traveller’s Choice Poll, in which London came in fourth place, behind significantly smaller cities: Edinburgh, York and Brighton. This brings us to the question – is London losing it’s touch?

 

It has always been claimed that one of the major appeals of London was the British Royal Family. Two recent opinion polls has showed conflicting results on this subject – while ComRes’s survey for the Independent found that over half of the people questioned were not interested in the Royal Family, a survey by Angus Reid suggested that most Brits are still fascinated by regal goings-on. Perhaps interesting to note, is that the majority of those who answered positively were female and over 50. The younger generation are no longer enchanted by romantic stories of princes, kings and queens, perhaps that is what is stopping them choosing the London?

 

 

A major gripe, which seems to be the cause of much complaint, is that going to London could potentially be more expensive than a break to more far-flung destinations. Everything from flights to hotel and entertainment bookings can now be arranged online making it easier to compare options and giving travellers more flexibility. For many travellers, budget is a major consideration when deciding where bookings will be made, and lower price tags can be seductive. While this could spell problems for London’s notoriously pricey restaurants, hotels and visitor attractions, many of the city‘s businesses are turned onto this growing trend and are encouraging new customers to try their services at discounted rates through group buying websites such as Groupon and Keynoir, which offer exclusive discounts of up to 90%.

 

While money seems to be the decider in the travel choices that people make, it would be impossible to deny that London offers its visitors variety, even if it does come at a price. Dozens of tourist attractions, museums, iconic and historic buildings, art galleries, theatre and music shows mean that whoever you are and whatever your interests, you’ll find something to that hits the spot. While world famous attractions such as Madame Tussauds and the London Eye have a hefty ticket price, there are more than enough free entry attractions (mainly museums and art galleries) to keep even the most demanding tourist satisfied. The London Pass is a popular way of keeping to budget, although it has come under criticism for not offering good enough value for money. The pass includes entry to 55 of the top attractions and has other benefits such as allowing ticket holders to “jump the queue” and save time, but cost could well to outweigh the convenience unless you are particularly keen to visit the attractions which are “on the list”. On the whole, London’s attractions are well maintained and allow tourists to experience myriad aspects of British culture and history. And, as a bonus for anyone with concerns that the capital city’s weather might be a let down, the majority of the best attractions are under-cover, which means they can enjoyed rain or shine. When you consider the amount that you would fork out to visit the tacky and over the top Disney Land for example, a trip to London could provide more interest and cost you less.

 

Another major attraction are London’s splendid shopping areas. Oxford Street is Europe’s largest shopping street, stretched over one and a half miles, with hundreds of shops from cheap and cheerful high street brands, flagship stores and designer labels. Even more eclectic are the famous Camden Markets, which has over 1,000 shops selling everything from vintage and alternative fashion to antiques and collectibles. London is considered by many to be a shoppers paradise, and on that side of things it doesn’t let itself down.

 

The theme of diversity as found in London’s attractions is continued in the umpteen restaurants which range from cheerful, local café bars to fine dining on a grand scale. Hungry travellers are truly spoilt for choice, with cuisines as varied as Asian-Fusion and Traditional British, with everything else in between. While this all sounds very exciting, in London it is worth remembering that quality doesn’t (often) come cheap. Connoisseurs may recommend turning to the prestigious Michelin Guide, whose much sought after stars are given to restaurants which excel in quality, value for money and consistency, as well as food which “shows the personality of the chef”. London has a healthy dose of Michelin starred restaurants, seven of which received their first star in the latest Michelin guide. Dining in a Michelin rated restaurant more or less guarantees that standards will be sky high, but prices are sure to match. Down the scale, standards drop, but that doesn’t mean that the intrepid visitor won’t find a hidden gem or two where the prices are right and the food world class.

 

Another area where London gives it’s visitors plenty of choice is hotel rooms. It is estimated that by the Olympics in 2012, the city will have 123,000 beds available. In 2010, the Hotel Price Index found that the average price for one night’s accommodation in London is £110. This might seem a little on the steep side, but compare it to New York, Geneva and Monte Carlo, where hotel rooms come in at over £150 per night. Budget hotel chains and backpackers hostels do offer a significantly cheaper option, but the less you pay, the more basic the accommodation.

 

In many cases, hoteliers have decided to forget frugal and get extravagant with decadent and original touches to appeal to weary tourists. Quirky boutique hotels offer more than just a place to rest your head at night, with breathtaking interior design, and everything you could possibly desire to guarantee your comfort. What it is worth bearing in mind, is that while many travellers rely on the star rating system to judge whether a hotel will be a good choice, it is quite common for the hotel itself to determine their own rating. The waters are muddied further by the complicated systems used by the AA and VisitBritain to judge hotel standards. They may well be respected, but their criteria is difficult to fathom, and downgrades hotels for not having little extras (like I-pods in rooms) which the average visitors wouldn’t get much use out of anyway.

 

One thing that most visitors to London will get plenty of use out of is their maps and depending on who you talk to, London’s transport system is either a boon or a complete nightmare. With the combined services of the Underground, buses and trains, visitors to the city will discover that the system is without a doubt comprehensive and is easy to navigate using the classic plan, which is considered an iconic British design and has been imitated around the world. On the downside large volumes of people move through the system each day, and it can at times be dirty, uncomfortable and excessively noisy. Budget wise travellers will soon discover that buying a pass for the transport systems is most economical, and adds to the authentic experience of the city . Somewhat more refined are London’s black cabs, whose drivers claim to know every street in the city. For budget travellers these may be prohibitively expensive, although those travelling in small groups would benefit from sharing a cab both in comfort and efficiency.

 

Whatever the polls say, London does retain a unique character which has attracted tourists for centuries and will continue to do so for many years to come. The popularity of the British Royal Family may wax and wane according to current public whim, but years of history that have gone into making London what it is, and that is what people come for – that blend of cultures and communities which no other city can offer.

 

 

Yes, it may cost you a pretty penny to enjoy the city to the full, but you are guaranteed holiday memories which you wouldn’t get lying on a beach.

 

Sponsored by: Hotel-assist.com – local provider of London hotel rooms

 

 

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  1. [...] London tourism – still hot, or just lukewarm now? | London Hotel News & Information london.hotel-assist.com/is-london-losing-it.html – view page – cached Is London tourism on the wane? Does it have a falling reputation with its expensive hotels, travel system and restaurants? Do London hotels fall short of guest expectations due to the lack of a compulsory rating system? Whats your take on this issue? Tags [...]

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