Stop whingeing about the crowds and start appreciating our tourists

Despite the crowds, the dearth of public toilets and the prices, London’s tourists came across as an overwhelmingly cheerful lot

Share

A year ago we were lamenting their absence. But this year they returned with a vengeance – the tourists, that is, in all their multicoloured, multi-ethnic, multilingual, glory.

After a string of four-hour shifts as a London “ambassador” offering directions to visitors this summer – a spin-off from the 2012 Olympics volunteer scheme – I can report two discoveries. The first is that the road junction at Parliament Square by the Treasury must be one of the most dangerous in the capital and it is thanks only to the unsung forbearance of London’s bus drivers and cabbies that dozens are not mown down there every day.

The other is the contribution that tourism makes to the economy. The sheer numbers surging through this focal point of London – with the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey making up one of the most glorious architectural ensembles in the world – has to be seen, and felt, to be believed.

The variety of shapes, sizes and languages is bewildering. There are times when the whole future of China seems to have come to stay – endless crocodiles of disconcertingly chubby and self-confident youngsters in yellow and red  T-shirts. But if you try to guess where people come from, you risk getting it very wrong. A trio at the extreme end of punk and goth turned out to be German, with barely a word of English between them. Not all lithe and stylish women are French; not all the grossly overweight are American.

Many have studied their destination and plotted their stay as minutely as an army cadet on a field exercise. Some are weighed down by a veritable library; others are minimalists, relying on sleek gadgets – but both are equally liable to come a cropper if they are reading their map the wrong way round.

Good manners abounded. I encountered a few whiny, snatchy children, but not nearly as many as you would find in the average supermarket, and a Russian family yelling about how they needed a taxi now. Mostly, though, pleases, thank-yous and smiles predominated. Despite the crowds, the dearth of public toilets and the prices, London’s tourists came across as an overwhelmingly cheerful lot. In fact, I would put it more forcefully: they are little short of heroic.

I dread to think how many photos of “that’s us, in front of Big Ben” will be shown off this autumn, but from the open-top tour buses to the red buses, to the Tube, they were completely up for it.

Who says today’s tourists are lazy? Time and again I was asked how to get to St Paul’s, the Tower, or “the shops”, and when I started to list the possibilities, the questioners beamed, shook their heads and made little walking imitations with their fingers. When I then told them, gently, how long it would take, they beamed again and said, “Fine”. A young British couple said, scornfully, that, as northerners, they had no problem with a long walk. Nor, I think, need we  be too worried about  civic education. I overheard some admirable explanations of the Cenotaph, of Parliament, and of Churchill from  your average mum and dad.

Another surprise, given the cynicism about politics, was the attraction of Downing Street. Of all the destinations I was asked for, it easily came out top. But it’s woefully underpromoted. How about a cardboard Cameron to pose beside, a souvenir stall, even a prime-ministerial appearance?

We could even make a feature of that lethal road junction. Given that everyone prefers a direct route and barriers would spoil the view, I suggest a sign saying “Very Dangerous Crossing” and inviting visitors to take their chance. Not that London’s tourists need any more challenges. In my book, they’ve already won gold medals for cheerfulness, determination, and services to the UK economy.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee