London’s bursting airports could harm the tourist trade
London’s crown as Europe’s top tourist city will continue to shine despite Brexit, as it has done throughout our nation’s history.
With its exciting mixture of high and low culture, history and (Tate) modernism – as well as fantastic food that has dispelled the country’s undeserved fish-and chips-obsessed reputation – it is no surprise that the UK capital won TripAdvisor’s best-rated destination in the world this year, beating the likes of New York, Paris, and Rome for the top spot.
To put some figures behind London’s popularity, the city hosted more than 19.8m overnight visitors last year. This is all big business – they are likely to stay in the city for 5.8 nights (a full working week) and spend almost £120 per day on average, according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index.
Clearly, the future is looking very bright for London. However, there is one major issue for the capital: how do these high-spending, Tower of London-loving, Changing of the Guard-watching people get here?
For the most part – given that we are an island on the end of Europe – it is typically via plane.
But with political paralysis around airport expansion (the London Assembly is the latest organisation to oppose Heathrow’s proposed third runway) and tens of millions of people seeking to get a slice of London, the city is facing an airport capacity crunch.
London air traffic has grown from 140m passengers in 2013 to circa 180m in 2018, which is roughly a 30 per cent increase in five years.
Gatwick and Heathrow airports, meanwhile, are at full capacity with 46m and 80m passengers in 2018 respectively, while Luton hit 17m, which is close to its capacity of 18m passengers. Elsewhere, Stansted served 27m passengers in 2018, with constrained slots at peak times.
Consider London’s aforementioned demand with those figures in mind, and you come to one worrying conclusion: the capital’s airports are nearly full.
In other words, and despite the naysayers, Brexit won’t be the thing that dents London’s tourism boom; it will be a lack of imagination when it comes to airports.
The good news, however, is that there is a solution on offer.
London Southend Airport, the city’s next big travel hub – which has consecutively been ranked London’s top airport over the last six years by Which – will provide critical capacity to London over the coming decade, when other airports serving the capital are eking out capacity.
London, let’s not forget, is growing eastwards. Stratford – which has trains running to London Southend Airport – is becoming a more and more important interchange for the city’s rail network.
It takes around 50 minutes to travel from Liverpool Street (located in the City, the UK’s financial heart) to London Southend Airport. To put that into perspective, it’s the same amount of time to travel to Stansted or Luton from Liverpool Street.
London is the largest travel market in the world, which has grown at more than twice the rate of the capital’s GDP. Over time, the economics of tourism to the capital will trump the political obstacles.
But the powers that be must back London Southend Airport now, before the capital’s other airports burst at the seams.