Towards the Millennium

London Tourist Board

A look at why London is attracting increasing visitor numbers and developments in the Capital to the year 2000

In 1997, London will receive some 24 million visitors - an increase of nearly 40 per cent over five years. Why are they coming? The immediate answer is that London is in fashion - it is the place to be. It is 'hot'. Earlier this year, a new identity for London, created to spearhead an £8-million marketing drive for the Capital was launched by London Tourist Board (LTB) with the aim of increasing revenue from visitors. The new identity for London projects a more contemporary and vibrant image of the city to show; in the words of LTB Managing Director Paul Hopper, 'it is at the cutting edge of fashion, music, nightlife and eating out.'

London has also been successfully attracting business travellers - they represent around a quarter of all visitors, but a third of the spending (some £2.6 billion). The city already has a head start, as over a fifth of Europe's 500 largest companies are headquartered in London - more than any other European city - as well as being the HQ of 64 companies from the Fortune Global and Service 500 rankings. Weekly direct scheduled flights to 250+ international destinations from five airports make it one of the most accessible cities in the world.

Investing in the future

Every successful city needs to adapt and improve, so London never stands still. With more than half of its visitors having been to the city before, it continually needs to attract people back with new facilities, new things to do and new places to stay. Throughout London, money is being invested in convention facilities, hotels are being upgraded and meeting centres refurbished. There is also a very active campaign to encourage hotel building in the Capital, which should, in the long term, assist business travellers - especially those who have to visit at short notice.

It is currently estimated that more than 3,000 new hotel beds are in the pipeline for the Capital. One highly publicised development is that at County Hall, the old GLC building south of the river, where Whitbread Hotels have announced plans for a 318-room Travel Inn budget hotel and a 200-room Marriott Hotel. A new Stakis Hotel will open during 1997 beside the Business Design Exhibition Centre and the following year should see the opening of a new 390-room Marriott Hotel at Heathrow. A year ago the Novotel Group opened at Waterloo, serving the Eurostar Terminal and the hotel is already attracting a loyal business clientele.

As confidence began to return to the corporate meetings market, many major players reinvested in the Capital for 1997, installing state-of-the-art facilities and bringing new products on-line. The Millennium Conference Centre, situated between the Gloucester and Bailey's Hotel is an extensive development by CDL Hotels, which includes the addition of over 100 rooms, the upgrading of existing accommodation and construction of a free-standing conservatory. All the latest video conferencing techniques, sophisticated AV and PA facilities will be built-in. The complex will be operated under a single management structure and it is scheduled to open in January 1997.

A new £5 million prestigious conference venue, One Whitehall Place, opened in summer 1996, under the management of Thistle Hotels. Its stunning centrepiece is the Gladstone Library, with Romanesque pillars and mahogany panelling. In a prestigious location in Westminster, it overlooks Whitehall Gardens and the Embankment - it is venues such as this which remind you that if you want to do something in style, it can be done in London.

A little further west, the Royal Garden Hotel on Kensington High Street has reopened, following a £28 million refit. The exterior has been remodelled and the famous rooftop restaurant with its views over Kensington Gardens has been redesigned. A fully equipped business centre and fitness room have been added.

New attractions, dining out

Segaworld, the refurbished Trocadero indoor entertainment complex, and the Museum of Rugby all opened during the year. For children, Legoland have developed a theme park at Windsor and in the Natural History Museum, the Earth Galleries have been completely redeveloped. Add these to over 100 theatres and 300 museums and the Capital offers a virtually unrivalled selection of arts and entertainment. Estimates indicate that on any one night, up to 60,000 seats are available at cultural events in London.

London has a staggering 5,700 restaurants - providing the cuisines of over 50 different countries. Fashionable new openings include L'Odeon and The Avenue, while old favourites like Simpson's-in-the-Strand have opened for breakfast and tea and Claridges has developed a business lunch which they will serve in 59 minutes. Meanwhile in many hotel dining rooms, the quality of food has risen enormously in the last decade. Hotels have caught on to the fact that if they want to keep guests dining in house, they need to have a pretty inventive menu, provide food excellently prepared and stay open long hours. A number of London's top hotels now have 24-hour dining, many are also geared up for special needs, be it vegetarian, low chloresterol, Japanese, etc.

Towards the Millennium

With the Millennium Festival site now confirmed at Greenwich, the south side of the river is gearing up for an influx of tourists. Although details of the Festival Exhibition will not be announced until next year, up to 15 million people are expected to visit it - aided by new transport links from the tube and Docklands Light Railway. (The National Maritime Museum is already taking bookings for corporate events up to the big day).

The south side of the river is already developing as a tourist destination, with the opening of the Globe Theatre, Oxo Tower Wharf and the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside, on schedule for spring 2000. London is rapidly developing towards the Millennium.