Samuel Johnson famously said: “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”.
Today, more than two centuries on, the tourism and hospitality sector is recognised as one of the most significant forces in the capital’s economy. It is predicted that, by 2025, more than 40m people will come to London – last year that number was already over 30m.
The dip in value of the pound after the EU referendum has certainly contributed to the recent record numbers of visitors to the UK. Visit Britain announced a bumper July this year – up six per cent on last year to four million, with European and North American visitors leading the way.
The amount being spent here by tourists has also increased by three per cent from a year ago, to £2.8bn.
But the currency alone is not the reason for London’s tourism success.
The city’s first-rate sporting events, entertainment, food and shopping attract people in their droves.
International cricket at Lords, Formula 1 in Trafalgar Square, Wimbledon Tennis, the IAAF World Championships at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the list goes on.
And on Sunday, we welcomed American football onto the capital’s sporting scene, with NFL games at Wembley and Twickenham. The NFL is celebrating 10 years since it staged the first regular season game in London, proving to the world that this is a truly internationalist city.
Meanwhile, guests flock to Seven Dials and South Kensington for incredible theatre performances, and awe-inspiring exhibitions at the V&A and Natural History Museums. This month, London Fashion Week wowed once again, with thousands enthralled by designers’ creativity.
Visitors to London know that around every corner there is potentially something new to discover.
However, while tourist numbers are set to rise, we must also ensure that the city remains globally competitive. Today’s travellers expect more, which is why it is vital that there is ongoing and sustained investment in infrastructure. The night Tube on certain key lines is a big step in giving people more freedom to explore the city outside of peak hours, and pulls us in line with Berlin, New York and Copenhagen.
Next year’s Crossrail opening will mean it is quicker and easier than ever to get across the capital, as well as to Heathrow and beyond. Developing our airport capabilities is also crucial to ensure that international visitors – including elite sports stars, artists and actors, as well as business people – can easily access the city.
Our industry employs around 700,000 people in London, the equivalent of one in seven total jobs there. And that is set to grow.
The hospitality industry can offer people sustainable, long term career options, and it is vital that as an industry we support our people with relevant, practical training.
In 2016, Edwardian Hotels London committed to a 10-year partnership with Imperial College London Business School, to develop the hospitality leaders of tomorrow. We are members of The 5% Club, which focuses on recruiting apprentices and graduates, and have our own apprenticeship programme, because we know that private businesses have a key part to play in growing the skills of this sector.
London is a city that pulses with entrepreneurial spirit, positivity, and diversity. As more visitors come to the capital in the coming years, I believe they can be reassured that London really does offer “all that life can afford”.