A lack of national coordination coupled with poor international competitiveness is threatening to undermine the predicted benefits to tourism and hospitality of the 2012 Olympics, industry leaders have warned.
BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said that the "unique opportunity" presented by the games risked being missed because of delays to the tourism strategy and an uncompetitive environment.
The Olympics are expected to attract 320,000 overseas visitors to London as well as a vast media presence that will market the nation abroad. But Ibrahim said that the UK still lacked the competitiveness and value to attract the repeat visits that will bring long-term benefits.
"If visitors gain a favourable impression during their visit, they will want to return. This will be one of the most important legacies of the games, not only in London but throughout the UK," she said. "They are a unique opportunity to increase awareness of the UK in the global tourism market."
Ibrahim warned that the legacy of the games was being threatened by the country's poor international competitiveness. One of the most significant threats to progress was the transition of Regional Development Agencies to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), she said.
"There is absolutely no co-ordination nationally in this and there is a grave danger that tourism will lose out in the reorganisation," Ibrahim added.
She urged the Government to deliver its long-awaited tourism strategy to address the uncertainty surrounding destination marketing organisations (DMOs).
"We heard last week that Visit Lincolnshire was being wound up because of lack of funding. We are fearful that a similar fate will befall other DMOs and that there will be insufficient funding for LEPs to promote tourism in their area. The Government's tourism strategy needs to be clear about this - which is why it's needed so urgently."
Ibrahim also cited the UK's high level of VAT compared with most of Europe, complex visa forms and increases in passenger duty as factors that would have a negative effect on tourism trends.
"In competitive terms, UK tourism is operating with one hand tied behind its back, and this will become ever more damaging if we don't do something about it," she said.
Ibrahim said that despite the Government's intention to create a £100m fund to promote the UK, there remained no visible marketing activity.
"Britain is on show so we must make sure that we provide a quality product with a quality service," she said.
This concern was echoed by Professor David Foskett, associate dean of Thames Valley University's London School of Tourism, who said that now was the time to act if the industry was to take advantage.
"It's an opportunity to show what we have to offer, but a marketing job has to be done," he said. "We need to sell London and the variety of food on offer."
Foskett added that young people needed to be encouraged into the industry and, in order for there to be enough trained staff, creative ways had to be found to bring in the required workforce.
"There just isn't the number of people coming out of colleges," he explained. "And if they don't already live locally there will be no accommodation for them.
"It's time to train students at local universities who may already be good at service. There are lots of resources in London but we need to look at different ways of staffing - for instance, hiring out-of-work actors."
Keeping the post-Olympic equipment market fair
With vast amounts of catering equipment required for the 2012 games, the organisers are wary of creating the situation suffered in Sydney, where second-hand equipment flooded the market after the Olympics, prompting a dip in manufacturing.
Speaking at Olympics 2012 - are we ready for the off? (a seminar organised by Foodservice Consultants Society International), Jan Matthews, head of catering for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) said that with the massive volume of equipment needed - hundreds of coffee machines, for example - there had to be a legacy for equipment, too.
"We're looking at negotiating deals where we pay a less for equipment, and after the games it is taken back by the manufacturer, refurbished and then sold into the public sector," she explained.
Matthews added that contracts would be going out to tender in the next few weeks and that LOCOG's parameters of value for money, sustainability and legacy would be high on the list of requirements for bidders.
By James Stagg
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