Capital gains

With Government spending per tourist down to 4p, and with increasing competition from other cities, the London Tourist Board has decided the capital needs a helping brand. Jon Rees asks whether the ‘marque’ campaign can lure visitors and get b

While “See Naples and die” was one of the first tourism slogans and “I love New York” its modern equivalent, London intends to go one step further and dispense with words altogether.

This month the London Tourist Board announced that the city is to have its own marque (MW May 12) – a symbol to be used on everything from theatre tickets to car stickers, in a similar way to the New York campaign that was such a success in the Seventies.

When a crime-ridden, near-bankrupt New York launched its campaign it was seen as akin to the Titanic going down with lights blazing. But it worked. An ubiquitous heart and NY initials were used to present the city as brash, loud and proud. It undoubtedly helped draw tourists to the city in their millions. Now it’s London’s turn.

“No one has ever done this in the UK before. We want something to suggest the life of London. It will have movement, life and light, reflecting the personality of the place,” says Laura Haynes, managing director of Beresfords, the design company that won the contract to produce the marque. The design will be unveiled in September.

Haynes is already certain of one thing: it must encapsulate London’s primacy as a centre of fashion, business and tradition. But it is not going to feature a collage of Beefeaters and the

Post Office Tower – or anything similar.

London needs to emphasise a separate identity from the rest of the UK, partly because it’s marketed overseas by the British Tourist Authority (BTA) rather than the London Tourist Board. So the strength of London as a brand can easily be diluted; and the established perception of London, with Beefeaters, the Changing of the Guard, royalty and all, can be a handicap.

“London is so much more than this. It’s fashion, nightlife, music. The new emerging markets of the Far East are not only looking for the older things London is famous for, they’ve got the rest of the day to fill up, too,” says BTA managing director Colin Hobbs.

“We want to draw attention to all of London’s attributes. The capital has two-and-a-half times as many live shows as New York, for instance; and we need to because the competition is hotting up,” he says.

Precise comparative figures for London’s tourist trade compared to Paris and New York are impossible to get because there is no like-for-like measure. However, the BTA says London has lost out recently to Paris in attracting conferences, while New York has tended to attract a proportionately higher level of domestic visitors.

The BTA says that overall, the UK gets more than 20 million visitors and that they spent 9.8bn last year. But London’s 5.9 per cent annual growth in international tourism receipts between 1980 and 1992 compares badly with other European countries, which averaged eight per cent.

Hobbs says Government policy has been to direct money away from London to the provinces. Government spending on tourism works out at 4p per tourist in London and 9 in Northern Ireland.

London’s tourism campaigns also continue to suffer from deplorable funding levels. Government and private sector money should raise 8m for London over two years. This is a little more than Wrigley’s spends on advertising its chewing gum brands.

There is also no authority to co-ordinate London’s campaign, nor a place where bodies such as the LTB – which is a private company – or the British Retail Consortium or Association of British Travel Agents can go to air their views and plans for London and get a definitive answer.

The last organisation to speak for London was the Greater London Council, which the Conservative Government abolished. Since then there has been nothing to fill the gap and successive administrations have proved reluctant to appoint either a minister for London – the only major capitalin the world without its own political voice – or some kind of elected body for London with financial clout.

One of the organisations which emerged to help fill the space left by the GLC – though it would not see itself in those terms – is London First. It was founded in 1992 to promote London internationally and “make the capital a better place to visit and in which to live, work and invest”.

Among its directors are plenty of representatives who are heads of companies such as Grand Metropolitan, British Airways, Marks & Spencer – even Maurice Saatchi. The Association of London Authorities and the odd London borough are represented.

London First works with the LTB, which used to be partially funded by the GLC. Though the BTA now receives funding from the London Boroughs Grants Committee this is less in real terms than it got from the GLC.

Hobbs clearly considers even commenting on the issue a sensitive matter. He refuses to say if he feels London misses the GLC or a similar single body. But he does think that the LTB and London First work well together. “The LTB and London First are acting very much as boyfriend and girlfriend. When it comes to inward investment we leave it to them, and when it comes to tourism they leave it to us. I do not think it would help if there were one company dealing with this,” he says.

Though the private sector is represented by London First, not all the areas seem well-placed to contribute to an overall campaign for London.

Retailing, for instance, will be expected to contribute because it is one of the industries which will benefit most. Its importance as an attraction for tourists cannot be over-stated, as the newly published Australian first edition of The Lonely Planet travel guide to the UK makes clear. “Shopping is regarded as part science, part sport, part entertainment, part recreation. To get any feeling of London life you have to abandon anti-consumerist principles and throw yourself into the fray,” it says.

Unfortunately, retailers, who draw so much revenue from tourism, do not work together to attract it.

“Retailers, because of their competitive nature, tend to pull in all directions,” says British Retail Consortium (BRC) chairman James May.

“So the various street associations – like those for Oxford Street and Bond Street, for instance – promote their streets, but there’s a lack of will among retailers as a whole to promote London,” he says.

There’s a prejudice among some against even setting up shop in the capital, let alone helping promote it to tourists. JJB Sports, for instance, has 126 stores in the UK and Europe but none in London. Chairman and part-owner Dave Whelan calls London the “capital of crime”, says staff have “no fixed abode” and worries that he can’t track them down when they steal from his stores. A colleague of Whelan says he personifies “northern grit”, though Londoners might pronounce “grit” with a silent “r”.

May says London retailers see themselves in competition with other London retailers and not those in Paris or New York. He suggests an arrangement could be made for retailers to come together with the LTB and London First, perhaps, to look at the issue in its entirety.

It would be expecting a lot of a marque to transform attitudes like those of Whelan, but it will be encouraging if it can emulate just part of the success of the New York campaign. London deserves all the help it can get, after all, to quote The Lonely Planet guide again, there are very few cities in the world which do not seem provincial in comparison.