London First wants more overseas promotion

London First has called for more promotion abroad of London as a business and tourism destination, particuarly in China, urging the Mayor to ditch City Hall’s “vanity posters” on the Tube and increase expenditure on overseas work.

London is failing to attract Chinese business and tourism because the Greater London Authority is not promoting the city properly abroad, a new report from London First has said.

The report identifies that London is less well placed that its rivals, such as Paris and Berlin. As a result, Chinese people rate both Paris and New York as “more important” than London when asked to comment on their perception of international cities.

Part of the reason could be air links. London offers fewer direct air routes to Chinese cities than competitor cities (excluding Hong Kong). The UK offers direct flights to only four Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu), while Frankfurt serves six destinations and Paris Charles de Gaulle seven. This shortfall is linked to the capacity crunch over which the UK Government is currently dithering.

Paris is estimated to receive up to 50% more Chinese tourists than London, boosted by its membership of the Schengen single visa arrangements through which 26 European countries collectively issue 1.4m visitor visas in China p.a. as opposed to the 390,000 UK visas issued there.

The UK accounted for less than 1% of the total Chinese outbound tourism market in 2013. This is in part because the most popular destinations are short haul Asian countries. But, say London First, even when only what Visit Britain defines as London’s competitor set are taken in to account – Western economies of a similar distance from China and with a broadly comparable visitor offer – Britain still only ranks tenth in terms of market share.

London First says the Capital needs to be promoting itself not just with China’s four first-tier cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen) because there are more than 50 second-tier cities in China with a per capita GDP over $10,000.

The report places the blame at the low level of expenditure on promoting London abroad. It says that London’s “modest promotional budget”, of £19m a year, is “dwarfed” by city states such as Singapore (budget: £201m) and Hong Kong (budget: £253m) and behind European competitors such as Paris (£34m) and Berlin (£22m). When city populations are taken into account, London spends less than a quarter as much per head as Berlin.

London First believe the capital’s promotional authority, London & Partners, would benefit from a ring-fenced strategic fund to “scale up London’s promotion” in the markets of the future.

The report suggests a number of ways of raising the money, including selling Transport for London’s poster sites rather than using them for “vanity posters” promoting the Mayor, City Hall or Transport for London.

Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, said: “We can’t rely just on attracting traditional markets such as American tourists, welcome as they are. We also need to build our brand in the emerging economies too. Paris is just doing a much better job of attracting the Chinese – and every year we fail to market ourselves, we fall further behind.

“There are excessive numbers of vanity posters on the Tube promoting the Mayor and City Hall. If we sold all or most of these poster sites, we’d have more money to promote London abroad.

“With a new Mayor due in City Hall in less than one month, London First will be looking to them to take bold steps to invest in London’s international promotion.”

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