London's a great international brand that has to be managed carefully

'What makes London such a great place for tourists is that it is a modern and "lived in" city'
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Anyone who walks around the capital at the moment can see that tourism is one of London's key industries. The city had 26 million visitors last year - 130 million over the last five. Some 75 per cent of all arrivals in the UK come to London during their visit - 50 per cent of the city's guests come from overseas. The industry is one of the country's major generators of foreign exchange, worth £9.5bn a year, supporting 275,000 jobs, and accounting for 8 per cent of London's GDP. With leisure industries constituting a larger and larger proportion of the economy, the potential dynamic is clearly vast.

Anyone who walks around the capital at the moment can see that tourism is one of London's key industries. The city had 26 million visitors last year - 130 million over the last five. Some 75 per cent of all arrivals in the UK come to London during their visit - 50 per cent of the city's guests come from overseas. The industry is one of the country's major generators of foreign exchange, worth £9.5bn a year, supporting 275,000 jobs, and accounting for 8 per cent of London's GDP. With leisure industries constituting a larger and larger proportion of the economy, the potential dynamic is clearly vast.

One impediment to success for the city's tourist industry - the pound's overvaluation - is in the Chancellor's hands, not London's. But the underlying basis for building on the success of London's tourist industry relies on understanding the capital city - in particular the forces of globalisation that are reshaping every aspect of it and of which tourism is itself one spectacular manifestation.

The key for the tourist industry in London is integrating the city's strengths and history with the new economy. Its advantage is that no other city in the world lends itself comparably to such a fusion.

The positive core of the new globalised economy is the use of huge concentrations of capital to increase the flexibility and individualisation of choices available to each person. One of these is precisely the choice to travel - to open oneself to a range of different physical experiences that was impossible before the invention, and universalisation, of the jet airliner.

But it is more than just about physical communication. London embodies another key dimension in that it is both Europe's e-capital and its greatest media centre. Such a combination is symbolised in the sphere of business by the merger of America Online and TimeWarner, and driven by the need to unite the means of delivery of the new leisure industries with content - of culture with the most modern forms of technology and communication. That, understood in a much wider framework, is also the key to London's tourist development.

London's "content" is stupendous - on a scale to challenge one's imagination. It is far from being a question of historic sites and ceremonials - important though these are. London has 300 galleries and museums, and more than 150 theatres with 60,000 theatre seats on any one night. It is a home of international style and fashion. It is a 24-hour city with nightlife, clubs, restaurants and internationally known events. It plays the role of the great city throughout the ages - to bring together in one place a critical mass of economic, scientific, cultural and intellectual possibilities.

Even developed individually, these have awesome potential. The recent success of Tate Modern is too well known to require further comment. International attention is currently focussed on West End theatre. The Notting Hill Carnival has become an event at an international level. London is hosting the 2005 World Athletics Championship and is currently evaluating a bid for the Olympic Games in 2012.

But a key question is how to unite these elements both physically - in the sense of integrated tourist attraction - and in a brand image for the capital - the sense of London being the greatest city in the world. What makes this possible, and is the core of its uniqueness, is London's combination of tradition with its status as the world's most internationalised. Both are rooted in the city's unique history.

The physical origin of both the wealth that made possible "tradition", in the sense of a long uninterrupted history, and the diversity, in what is the greatest multicultural centre in the world, is that for several centuries London was the world's major port.

There is a satisfying logic in the fact that what will be one of the hearts of London's renewal for the next decades - the long redevelopment down its eastern river corridor - starts with the docklands area that was the core of London's wealth, but for a large part of its history did not equitably share in it. London was for centuries the greatest communications centre and the greatest melting pot in the world. That creates the city's unique character and attraction. The melting-pot feature of the capital - diversity coupled with the most modern forms of communications - is integral to London's character.

The problem for the tourist industry is that, despite its importance to both the capital city and the UK, it is another victim of the disorganisation in the capital city created by the absence, for more than a decade, of any integrating strategic authority. This is about far more than the type of well-publicised problems that affect Leicester Square.

In some critical areas - for example the lack of integration of planning of London's property and land use, including hotels, and the transport system, the problem goes far further back. The creation of the Greater London Authority (GLA), with power in the two fields, for the first time begins to create a means to overcome this and to bring a more integrated approach to the tourist industry. Together with the new policy of encouraging clustered high buildings in the city centre, tourism is one of the strategic planks of the city's economic development.

If London is to continue to develop its tourist industry, this requires an integrated approach in policing, transport, culture, and business. One small example is removing the type of bureaucratic obstruction symbolised by the absurd system of £10 penalty fines on the Tube. The number of tourists who, due to their not understanding the system, are caught up in paying these fines, in addition to the annoyance for London's inhabitants, undoubtedly lost more revenue for London in good will than the entire income to the Underground.

In short, strengthening London as one of the world's greatest tourist centres, which is a very conscious policy of the GLA, is not going to lessen the attraction of the city for its inhabitants. What makes London a great place for tourists is not only its tradition, but that it is a modern, "lived in" city.

Last week, Time Out, London's entertainment guide, ran a feature on what made London a great place for a holiday. It's also what makes it a great city to live in.

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