London is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, so attracting visitors isn't really a problem. What the city needs to ensure is that locals benefit from something that can be divisive if managed incorrectly.
Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our third annual Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30. In just a few years, Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”
Focusing on responsible travel practices and other key issues, Skift Forum Europe 2019 will take place at Tobacco Dock in London. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from British Airways, IHG, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Silversea, Uber, and many more.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.
Brexit makes marketing the country’s capital, which wanted to stay in the EU, a tricky task but it is not the only challenge for such a well-established and popular destination.
While the city doesn’t have exactly the same problems with overtourism as say Amsterdam or Venice, Laura Citron, the CEO of promotional agency London & Partners, believes there is still a need to make sure tourism works for locals.
Citron will speak on April 30 at Skift Forum Europe in London on a panel about the next chapter in responsible travel for destinations. Here’s a preview of what you might expect to hear from her there.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Skift: London is one of the most popular cities in the world for tourists. Does that make your job easy or hard?
Laura Citron: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it makes it interesting. So obviously London is a fantastic magnet for tourists. So we’re very lucky in that we’re working with this hugely-popular product. But as you know there are growing issues with overtourism in other European cities. So what we’re really focused on is growing London’s tourism industry. We’re absolutely not in the position where Amsterdam or Barcelona are, where they’re trying to limit tourism numbers.
But we very much recognize that in order to have a growing and thriving tourism industry in London, tourism needs to be beneficial to Londoners, and for Londoners to feel that tourism is benefiting them. Because that’s the only way you can maintain public support for the large numbers of tourists that we already have, and even more tourists coming in.
Skift: I was looking through your three-year strategy and it looks like there’s a real emphasis on making tourism work for Londoners. Can explain a little bit about that?
Citron: Internationally, for us the focus is really on making sure that international tourism is beneficial for Londoners. And what we mean by that is that international tourists are using London where we have capacity, and that’s spatial capacity. So making sure that tourists are spreading out to parts of the city. But it’s also temporal capacity, using the city at night. Using the city in the shoulder periods.
And then also encouraging the tourists who come to London to be enjoying and spending in as wide a range of different cultural attractions as possible. So that they’re supporting a really diverse cultural scene for London, which Londoners can also enjoy. So that’s how we think about what good tourism looks like. It’s about where, it’s about when, and it’s about the diversity of things that tourists do.
The way we approach that is mostly in terms of who comes to London. And then also what they do once they’re here. So that means that the most effective way of changing tourism behaviors is to get different people to come, who want to do those things.
What our research has shown is that the tourist segments that are most likely to be interested in going to attractions in the outer boroughs, going to different kinds of like diverse nightlife, clubs, going beyond the obvious kind of top 10 attractions in London, are those who come from long-haul markets, because they stay longer so they explore more.
They’re young, and they’re culturally curious. So they’re motivated by authentic experiences. Thy want to live like a Londoner. They want these immersive experiences. They don’t want to feel like a tourist. What we’re doing with our tourism promotion work for London is in a very, very targeted way, promoting London to those groups of tourists. It’s like U.S. and Chinese, independent travelers, millennials, mostly first-time visitors with healthy curious mindsets. Because we know that when they come to London, they display those behaviors which generate good tourism growth for London.
Skift: You’re targeting quite specific groups of people. How do you make sure you’re reaching those people effectively?
Citron: The easy answer is lots of data analytics. In the United States for example this year, our leisure tourism marketing work is targeting first time visitors from U.S. tier one cities. And we’re doing it jointly with Paris. So we’re marketing London and Paris as a single destination. Come to London and Paris on one epic trip.
And that’s because the data has shown us that for that segment that we’re targeting, London and Paris are top two bucket list destination cities that they want to visit. But that visiting London and Paris together is more appealing than visiting London on its own.
Skift: That’s a really interesting approach. I’ve not heard many destinations work in such a collaborative way before.
Citron: Yeah, especially with a city that’s probably considered our number one competitor. But it’s been really effective. So we’ve been working with Paris for over a year now. The campaign launched in the fall. And it’s all around how you can experience these two fantastic cities in one epic trip linked by Eurostar in a week.
And we’ve had really positive results from the campaign. Really strong uplift in intention to visit London and Paris. But also I think particularly at this time with Brexit and all of that going on, I think you know, demonstrating Londoners’ openness, our collaborative spirit, how important we take our links with other European cities is also very important to us.
Skift: You talked a bit about collaborating with European cities and openness. And London has always had that. And are you finding it a challenge to promote London with Brexit?
Citron: There’s no doubt that Brexit has had a negative effect on the UK’s reputation, and by association London in some markets, particularly in Europe. Actually the Brexit impact, the further away you go, is much weaker. And in some markets is actually seen as a positive, because there’s a perception that there’ll be a more level playing field for example. But actually that’s not always a positive effect in the end with some audiences.
So does it make our job harder? Yes, in some markets. But London is a phenomenal product. And what we’re finding is London’s strengths are enduring. The reasons that people come to London on holiday, to do business are not changed: Connectivity, talent, culture, lifestyle, green spaces. It’s a global business capital. But what we’re really emphasizing in our communication at the moment is the future of London. Because as you know, this whole Brexit debate is incredibly short-term.
You’re playing with this very short-term narrative about what’s happening today, tomorrow, next week in Brexit. And what we’re really trying to do is to talk about the longer term time horizon. Let’s talk about the next three, five, 10 years in London. What could that look like? Because there are some incredibly exciting projects coming down the line for London that show that London, regardless of what happens with Brexit, remains a thriving and dynamic global city.
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Photo credit: A London bus crosses Tower Bridge. London and Partners CEO Laura Citron is speaking at Skift Forum Europe. Ben Pipe / Visitlondon.com