Interview with Tracy Halliwell, Director of Tourism, Conventions & Major Events at London & Partners.
How would you describe the destination in a few words?
Tracy Halliwell: A truly open and diverse city, where old stands alongside new and culture meets innovation. From the Royal Parks of Greenwich to the street markets of Brixton and the buzz of East London's Tech City, London has provided the backdrop to thousands of years of history and creativity.
How would you have described it 20 years ago?
Tracy Halliwell: London's core identity and values remain the same. Twenty years ago, we had the same black cabs driving over historic Tower Bridge and the red buses on Piccadilly. There was always a buzz in the air, but the city has certainly got a lot bigger and seen exciting change and developments too...
You wouldn't have seen the same iconic Interview with Tracy Halliwell, Director of Tourism, Conventions & Major Events at London & Partners. London skyline we all know and love today, with the Shard, the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, all products of London's booming development and growth. London has become a major tech hub, with giants like Google and Apple opening their UK HQ in redeveloped areas such as King's Cross and Battersea Power Station. Meanwhile, cultural initiatives and major events from the Olympic and Paralympic Games through to Lumiere London and the London Borough of Culture program have brought increased tourism, jobs and improved infrastructure to London's outer boroughs. We've learned a lot and got better at delivering these major events and leveraging them to promote the city.
The recent pandemic has been an experience shared around the entire globe, but the energy in London will find us evolve in a way that makes the city even more resilient for the next 20 years.
What, in your opinion, are the main drivers of this change?
Tracy Halliwell: London is a global hotspot for tech and innovation and over the last decade we have seen tech hubs emerge all over the city. What started as Silicon Roundabout in East London's Shoreditch now spreads from Here East in Stratford to White City in the west. The constant innovation and ease of doing business in London attract international investment from all over the world, which accelerates growth and development. Last year was a record year for investment into Londonbased companies, with $9.7bn raised in funding.
The legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on London cannot be overstated. The games rallied the whole city in a shared excitement and commitment, while also placing London firmly in the international spotlight. The Olympics paved the way for more major events - we now typically host around 80 a year - which have helped to define our city as a world-class festival and sporting capital, bringing in thousands of visitors and playing host to teams from the NFL and the Six Nations and to celebrations such as Notting Hill Carnival and Pride in London.
Another driver behind London's change over the past two decades is the increased competition from boroughs outside central London and the diversification of visitor offerings. Over the past two decades, we've seen tourist interest grow in almost all of central London's surrounding boroughs including Greenwich, Waltham Forest, Kingston upon Thames and Hackney, with a fifth of oversea tourist spending now taking place in these boroughs.
What concrete impacts have they had on the number of visitors to the destination?
Tracy Halliwell: We have seen international visitor numbers growing steadily since the 2012 Games. In 2011, there were 15.4 million international visits to the city. By 2019, that number had grown to 21.7 million according to data taken from the International Passenger Survey.
Hotel openings have also soared over the past ten years, increasing London's overall hotel room capacity by 41%. Beyond leisure tourism, the range of new hotel offerings have provided more options for meeting, events and incentive planners from top-end luxury accommodations to budget hotels.
From your point of view, what have been milestones in this evolution?
Tracy Halliwell: Some of the most notable milestones have been the monumental regeneration and development projects taking place across the city and beyond central London:
- 1981: The London Docklands development in east London and the subsequent transformation of Canary Wharf into a recognized global financial hub is a great example of creating new spaces for people and businesses. Regeneration of the unused docks began in 1980 and now boasts some of the UK's tallest buildings and is home to numerous world headquarters and major banks.
- 2000: To the east of Canary Wharf is another successful development project - the ExCeL Conference Centre. Since it opened in 2000, ExCeL London has been at the forefront of the historic Royal Docks' regeneration and was expanded in 2010 to incorporate the ICC London ExCeL. In previous years, the venue has hosted over 400 events annually, welcoming over 4 million people from around the world and driving 25% of London's inbound business tourists. Events hosted at ExCeL are responsible for delivering £4.5bn in economic impact to the city and more recently it showed its versatility, serving as a temporary hospital to treat Covid-19 patients - the NHS Nightingale.
- 2001: Closer to central London you have King's Cross. The largest urban regeneration project in Europe at the time, which development first began in 2001. Since then, the area has been transformed into a whole new part of the city complete with 50 new buildings, 20 new streets, 10 new public parks and squares, and even a university. Coal Drops Yard located in King's Cross has transformed into a new shopping and foodie hotspot, providing numerous cultural programs throughout the year.
- 2010: The capital's iconic Battersea Power Station is undergoing a transformation as 42-acres of former industrial land is slowly reimagined into a new community complete with a theatre, food hall and hotel. The Nine Elms area as a whole has seen a lot of new developments in recent years, such as the new US Embassy and the revamped flower market at New Covent Garden Market. Already serviced by a river bus, the area will further be supported by the Northern Line underground extension with two new stations (Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms).
- 2012: The 2012 Olympic Games played a pivotal role for the city in terms of the infrastructure investment and the global reputation that followed. The creation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its ongoing development transformed a largely derelict site into an Olympic stadium, multiple athletic centres, commercial and retail spaces and around 10,000 new homes. It's the site of a brandnew cultural centre that will drive both growth and tourism. Over the next few years, there are significant plans to further expand the area as both a technology and cultural hub.
How many developing projects are currently underway in Greater London? How many of them concern tourism?
Tracy Halliwell: Two of those milestone examples - the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and King's Cross- are still ongoing projects with plans to continue development past 2020. King's Cross in particular, is an important tourism destination because of its close proximity to many hotels, venues and the Eurostar Terminal, especially now as a new line to and from the Netherlands was recently launched.
White City in west London is looking to regenerate the area around Westfield London shopping centre to create new residential spaces, a media centre and tech and education hubs. Greenwich Peninsula is also slated for change, with a new Design District due to open in 2021, and the addition of 15,000 new homes, 13,000 new jobs and 48 acres of public space to the area. Construction has already begun at the Royal Albert Dock to transform the area into London's third financial district.
In a way, all regeneration projects have an impact on tourism. These developments almost always include a cultural element, like Greenwich's The Peninsulist Presents program, which adds to the city's visitor appeal.
Aside from area-wide projects, new venues are also scheduled to open which will have far reaching impacts on their locations. Examples include the newest flagship hotel from Edwardian Hotels London - The Londoner - which will take pride of place in Leicester Square from early 2021, as well as boutique hotels like The Mayfair Townhouse (opened September 2020) and brand-new entertainment venues, like the proposed MSG Sphere in Stratford's East End.
What are the next steps? What are the objectives for the destination tomorrow?
Tracy Halliwell: London's population is forecasted to reach 10.3 million people in 2041. While the current circumstances have led to a halt on most international tourism, we are already seeing some positive early signs of domestic tourism appetite and recovery.
The city has plenty of space and resources to accommodate large numbers, but it is important that we constantly review the pressures on the transport network and infrastructure. This is why we support the Mayor of London in his objective to make London the smartest city in the world by collaborating with boroughs, service providers and the tech community to find and create innovative solutions to these issues.
In addition to fostering technology, another of our objectives is to champion sustainability and green spaces. Already the city is a leader in electric vehicle charging and is home to more charging points than many other global cities. All of London's double decker buses are now hybrids and the growing public hire bike scheme has more than 750 docking stations. We work closely with the Mayor of London to make the UK capital one of the greenest and healthiest cities in the world, promoting London's many public parks, wetlands and gardens to visitors.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this focus on sustainability with a particular goal on building back better and reshaping London to be fairer, more equal, greener and more resilient.
How does L&P and its members take part into these evolutions?
Tracy Halliwell: Many of our tourism, events and business partners have a deep commitment to sustainability and promoting London's "good growth" .We work in close partnership with our partners, the Mayor of London, national governing bodies, cultural institutions and London boroughs to help shape the city's evolution.
Through our role as the promotional organization for the city, we highlight London's credentials which in turns leads to increased investment in those areas, in a virtuous circle.
This has made London a hotspot for urban innovation and collaboration, with some of world's leading entrepreneurs in clean technology and engineering choosing to set up in the city.
Major international events are a huge draw for tourists, as we saw with the Olympics, and they have the potential to transform cities. London & Partners works to win new bids to attract new events that resonate globally, and we are always looking to bid on events that promote the city's sustainability and green objectives.